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Combatting Feelings of


in a Crowded World


“All the lonely people. Where do they all come from?”
- From Eleanor Rigby, by The Beatles

When Paul McCartney wrote the lyrics to  Eleanor Rigby, a song about loneliness, in 1966, the world’s population was 3,406,417,036, according to the Worldometer website. In 2023, also according to the Worldometer website, it had more than doubled that and reached 8,045,311,447. The increase in population, however, over those 57 years, has done nothing to assuage the feelings of loneliness many people continue to experience in our crowded world.

Almost one person out of every four people worldwide feels lonely, according to a 2023 survey of over 140 countries by Meta and Gallup. The number is probably higher because China, the second most populous country in the world, wasn’t included in the survey. All the advances in high-speed transportation and the information superhighway haven’t resulted in addressing the world’s loneliness in any meaningful way. We may be able to get to places faster and to have access to information at lightening speeds, but that doesn’t mean we’re interacting with others in a significant way when we reach a destination or when we go on social media.

The survey also showed that feelings of loneliness are more common among young adults than older adults and that men and women feel loneliness equally. 

Loneliness affects our mental health, which affects our physical health. In May of 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report titled, Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. It found that even before COVID-19 isolated us physically, about half of American adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. In an interview on the program, All Things Considered, on NPR, after the release of the report, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy explained, “In the last few decades, we’ve just lived through a dramatic pace of change. We move more, we change jobs more often, we are living with technology that has profoundly changed how we interact with each other and how we talk to each other.” The report also outlines the framework for a national strategy to combat loneliness.

It’s important that the problem of loneliness is being acknowledged at the highest levels and that a national strategy to combat it is being considered. However, change comes from within society and its communities as well. Let us, then, ask the question of ourselves, “How can we help combat loneliness?” Here are a few suggestions.

Notice the Signs of Loneliness in Loved Ones, Friends, and Neighbors
Not hearing from, or  not seeing, someone you know for a long period of time could be signs that they are suffering from loneliness. They may have retreated into themselves and chosen not to reach out to alleviate those feelings. They could be experiencing shame because of their perception that they are alone. If you notice you haven’t see someone out and about for a while or they haven’t been in touch, it could be a sign that they are lonely.

Reach Out
Reach out to someone who may be lonely by phone or by visiting them. Communicating in person rather than over social media is more personal and takes more effort. It shows the person your concern for their well-being is real. Once you have started reaching out, continue to do so on a regular basis. It only takes one friend we know we can trust to make us feel less isolated.

Listen and Communicate Meaningfully
When we are lonely, the feeling is real. It’s not something we’re making up to get attention, nor is it an excuse to cover up something else. Loneliness, whatever its cause, is a terrible feeling. It can cause us to feel unloved and unworthy of the affections of others. When someone expresses their feelings of loneliness to you, listen to them, take them seriously, and let them say as much as is necessary before interjecting. Advice isn’t always what is called for.

Show Instead of Tell 
Once you have listened to someone describe their feelings of loneliness to you, affirm those feelings. Knowing someone acknowledges that what they feel is real, is, in itself, a help. Instead of giving advice, trying to talk them out of their feelings, or telling them they are wrong to feel alone, show them. Kind words, an invitation to go for a walk, letting a member of their family know what’s going on, and other positive acts are far more positive and helpful than a lecture.

In a world filled with people, it can be hard to grasp the notion that any of us can ever feel lonely. We can. Circumstances can come together that will make any of us feel that way. When we understand that, we can also understand that each of us can create circumstances for someone who is lonely, which will change that. And, perhaps, one day they will do the same for us if we need them to.

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