Society today is haunted by a serious problem that has never been as prevalent in our history. It is the epidemic of loneliness.
This epidemic has public health implications. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health stated in his 2017 annual report, “Connected Communities”, that a weak sense of community belonging is more likely to characterize the top 5% of Canadians using health care services. This 5% accounts for more than 50% of total health care spending.
According to the June 2020 National Institute of Aging (NIA), a think tank at Toronto’s Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University), social isolation has been linked to poorer cognitive function and a 30% higher risk of dementia, stroke, heart disease and cancer mortality. Social isolation also increases anxiety and depression. The NIA study further found that Canadians were more likely to think suicidal thoughts if they experience loneliness. A study by Johns Hopkins University, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2023), also concluded that social isolation creates a higher risk of dementia: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Further, a study published in the Journal, Alzheimer’s and Dementia in 2021, also found that persistent loneliness increased the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Some reasons for increased loneliness:
- Volunteer work and membership in service clubs such as the Lions and Rotary clubs and women’s service clubs have declined, with some organizations folding because of a lack of members. TV screens cocoon people, and proliferating screening apps ensure that no one has to go out to see a movie or go out for many other things. Researchers have found that the more time spent on Facebook, the lonelier the individual.
- Families are smaller with more emphasis on individuality over family life and community activities. Children are no longer required to do chores around the home as frequently as they were in the past.
- Family and social connectedness has been reduced by social media and the internet, and is breaking down social and cultural ties that once brought people together. This can be evidenced by families and friends at entertainment and sports events, and in restaurants, during which individuals spend much of their time on their electronic devices rather than in conversation.
The Loneliness of Men
In recent years, significant changes in society have led to men facing increased loneliness. This is due to the rapid social and economic transformations that have set men and boys adrift. This situation is complex, and there is a concern that this complicated issue may be oversimplified in the space we have available.
Briefly however, there are at least two major reasons why the epidemic of loneliness has especially affected men. They are the spread of the feminist ideology and the pressures on men caused by our culture and educational system.
In the past, men’s role was clear: to provide for and protect their families. The rise of radical feminism, however, has changed this understanding. Women now join the workplace in large numbers and are also breadwinners. They have also become competitors to men in the professions. Feminism also despises men, declaring their behaviour toxic. Many feminists believe that men are no longer even necessary for reproduction purposes because of new medical technologies. Nor do many feminists believe that a man’s presence is necessary in the home since women are capable of raising children on their own, free from masculine interference.
Most reasonable women however, do not believe this nonsense. Reasonable women value men as fathers, as husbands, as sons, and as their partners and friends. They also believe, contrary to feminist ideology, that men and women are equal, but different. Unfortunately, the American Psychological Association (APA) has adopted the progressive, woke feminist ideology and rejected psychological sex differences. The APA insists that there are no psychological differences between men and women. This has left men struggling with their role in society, and suffering isolation, thereby increasing their loneliness. Because of this, men who make up 49% of the population, also make up 80% of deaths by suicide according to US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Statistics Canada reports 75% in Canada.
- Cultural and Educational Pressures on Men
Men have, typically, less developed friendships and support systems than women. Simply put, women are not constrained by our culture in showing emotions or intimacy with others. Part of the male problem with intimacy is tied to the unspoken rules that men learn in boyhood: they must keep themselves distanced, in control and not be emotional. Consequently, they stereotypically talk to one another about sports, hunting, and, in a pinch, about work, but not about personal, intimate matters because our culture is hostile to their doing so.
Women today also earn more university degrees than men and this places men at a serious disadvantage. There are a number of factors, both systemic and biological, that contribute to men falling behind academically.
Most school teachers are female, who view the world from this perspective. And, biological studies suggest that boys’ brains develop more slowly than those of girls, especially during adolescence. The education system is, however, favouring girls even though this is sometimes unintended. This can result in boys being categorized as having a developmental disability, which is frequently not so. They merely have a different learning pattern. As a result boys are more likely than girls to drop out of high school. In Ontario 15,000 students annually do not complete high school – mostly boys. Even if a boy does go on to university, girls are given priority for scholarships. This is particularly evident in the area of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and in the professions. The number of boys dropping out of school with no skills or training limits their job opportunities. They are left to fill their time trolling the internet (frequently searching for pornographic material) and watching videos. They also have less opportunity to enter relationships or marry because women tend to seek high earners as future partners. This creates challenges for males today regarding marriage and fatherhood. As a result, the less educated man frequently has no family commitments and therefore tends to be less incentivized to work.
The above is a somewhat simplified and generalized summary of the problems faced by men today, but it indicates the depth of these problems.
Government’s Concerns about Loneliness
Because of the detrimental effect of all loneliness on health care, governments have a vested interest in preventing this undesirable situation becoming an even bigger burden on the state. Governments in the UK, Japan, New Zealand and Australia have created national strategies to deal with this problem. Canada too, has been making publicly funded efforts to tackle social isolation, most notably through a grant-focused effort, called the New Horizons for Seniors program, that gives grants to non-profits, community organizations, and health associations. Britain has established a loneliness portfolio, which is headed by Diana Barran, Baroness of Bathwich, a member of the House of Lords, who is not at all lonely! She is a married mother of four and a former hedge fund manager.
Government intrusion however, is not usually effective. For example, China which has a legacy of the one child policy that has left many older Chinese without family support, has legislated that adult children must visit their parents regularly to attend to their needs. This legislation has proven difficult to enforce, however, since it relies on parents launching lawsuits against their non-compliant children, which most parents are reluctant to do.
A government funded loneliness strategy also depends mostly on privately created groups to carry out the work. Usually, religious or community groups tend to benefit from these government sponsored loneliness handouts.
A national strategy for loneliness would be more effective, however, if funds were provided directly to families to make it easier for them to reduce social isolation. In other words, personal responsibility should be prioritized in solving social isolation.
We should not look to the government to solve the problem of social isolation, especially when one considers how the government handled the pandemic issue. Therefore, it is not very comforting for Canadians to rely on the government taking over the loneliness problem. We need, instead, to return to the idea that was previously central to our communities – that individuals be committed to their own families, their neighbours, and other vulnerable people. Fighting loneliness is an obligation for all to share. Only a strong sense of community and belonging, built on the foundation of personal connection in communities is going to cure the present epidemic of loneliness. How we make this happen is the problem.