HomeBlogWhere are you going, "Soledad"? A conceptual approach to a complex and nuanced phenomenon.
Hitz egidazu": Aitor Salazar. "Looking at loneliness" Photo Contest. MatiaZaleak

Where are you going, "Soledad"? A conceptual approach to a complex and nuanced phenomenon.

Loneliness is one of the great current issues, both from an academic and a social point of view. We are talking about a phenomenon that, in recent years, has been gaining in importance and  increasing itspresence in the media. In general, our friend loneliness is usually  introduced with a certain dose of drama and sensationalism which contributes to equating this feeling with an epidemic., Thus, one more turn of the screw towards the medicalization of another social aspect of our lives.

In some  way, this vision is related to different studies that point to the causal relationship between the binomial loneliness and poor health. However, taking as reference the approaches of authors such as Christina Victor or Nicole Valtorta, such causality does not seem to be so clear so far. One could therefore ask whether it is loneliness that causes health problems or vice versa,, or in other words, is poor health  leading to isolation and loneliness. Even more, is it a two-way relationship that feeds back? The data we are currently dealing with are not considered conclusive, so we are still unable to say what causes what.

In any case, the message that emerges is that loneliness "kills", which simplifies a complex reality that requires a comprehensive approach including all agents and should consider such vital aspects as the psychological, biological and behavioral trajectories of individuals.

Another factor to take into account when we talk about this phenomenon is that the same word is frequently used to allude to very diverse realities. Thus, we can be describing an objective or observable situation of insufficient social relationships, referring to the type of home in which a person lives alone, talking about people who spend a lot of time alone... or referring to a more subjective approach known as the feeling of loneliness.

The relationship between these facets is complex, since the existence of a social network does not imply the presence of a relationship of trust or the absence of loneliness, in the same way that living alone does not directly lead to a lack of social relations or to a feeling of loneliness. Indeed, it seems to be a tongue twister. However, a more precise use of language is needed in order to adequately illustrates the different realities,since these terms are typically used interchangeably, which makes it difficult to adequately address the diverse solitudes.

Moreover, the idiosyncratic characteristics of the different societies and cultures in which such situations occur should be also considered, as those influence their meanings and interpretations and, consequently, the subjective perception in the individual sphere as well as in its social management.

The current socio-demographic trends in terms of coexistence models, especially in more developed societies, where a growing and important number of citizens live alone can be related to the social alarm that is being created in relation to loneliness. . This phenomenon, also rising in later life, is linked to the increase in  social values of autonomy, personal independence and decision-making at this lifestage, in which people prefer to continue living at home, even in possible situations of dependence. This is leading policymakers in different countries to design intervention plans and strategies to respond to these situations.

Nevertheless, this alarmist discourse which we are constantly receiving may contribute to the negative stereotypes associated with old age being maintained or even directly assumed by older people themselves. In turn, this assumption can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy or to inaction, by assuming that loneliness is something that is typical of old age, inevitable, and accordingly, making people quitting attempt to improve the  situation or manage the difficulties even before they begin.

It is therefore important to pay attention to communication about this situations  and to continue dismantling the stereotypes related to loneliness in later life. A neutral discourse  and the avoidance of perpetuating e the cultural burden of the meaning of loneliness  will help in the search of individual and community actions that support people in order to manage more adequately this i phenomenon.

These reflections have led us to initiate a project that has considered solitude (and loneliness) in a multidimensional way, contributing to the generation of a deeper knowledge about this concept in order to make progress towards a different and effective approach to its different facets among people who are aging in Gipuzkoa.

In future issues, we will continue to go into details about this phenomenon that acquires a particular dimension which is currently even more complexn view of the exceptional circumstances we are experiencing. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated pre-existing conditions or situations, with a forced social isolation at home that completely alters our relationship with the world and the people around us, shaking up routines, limiting relationships and support, and probably  reinforcing of loneliness, among other affectations and problems.


Expert in Gerontological Planning


Researcher at Matia Instituto


Researcher at Matia Institute

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