On Feeling Lonely and Isolated

Loneliness, A Health Hazard

“Its deeply seated in me

The birds are chirping

I can hear the voices

My kids are chatting around

But I feel lonely,

I am a lonely person…… “

Poem by Asma Khan

What is loneliness? How is it defined?

The word lonely, is used here, has nothing to do with being alone. As the poem above states, it’s possible to be surrounded by people, even loved ones, and yet feel lonely.

In reality, loneliness is a state of mind. In that state of mind, people feel empty, alone, and unwanted. Lonely people want human contact. Yet, their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people. Loneliness is a damaging state of mind. It damages one’s mental and physical health.

For twenty years, John Cacioppo, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist, has studied loneliness. He is the co-author of a recent book, “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.” The book’s central theme is that loneliness causes many physical illnesses. For example, studies show that social isolation and loneliness increase the flow of stress hormones. Stress hormones are those that make us alert when danger is present. When someone is lonely, they produce stress hormones with no real threat. As a result, the immune system is damaged, causing a vulnerability to viral diseases. The cardiovascular system rises, leading to stroke and heart attack because blood pressure increases, sleep is disturbed, and the aging process increases. The chronic stress caused by loneliness can even hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Dr. Cacioppo, some of the adverse effects of loneliness are:

* Depression and suicide

* Cardiovascular disease and stroke

* Increased stress levels

* Decreased memory and learning

* Antisocial behavior

* Poor decision-making

* Alcoholism and drug abuse

* The progression of Alzheimer’s disease

* Altered brain function.”

James J. Lynch, Ph.D., published a brilliant book a few years ago called “A Cry Unheard.” What is significant about the message Dr. Lynch conveys is that loneliness is a failure to communicate, engage in discourse, and be committed to each other and the community. In addition, he clarifies it is not merely talking that makes up communication, but the type of talk that is vitally important to human health. He coins the phrase “toxic talk” to describe a speech that destroys the other person’s self-esteem and well-being. The destruction of that self-esteem leads to loneliness, early heart disease, and death. Criticism, negativity, lack of praise, lack of warm feeling, rejection, and other factors that increase alienation and distance between people characterize toxic talk. According to Dr. Lynch, unwholesome talk increases social isolation and leads to early death.

Listed are a few suggestions that Dr. Cacioppo provides on how to overcome loneliness:

1. Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change.

2. Understand the effects of loneliness on your physical and mental life.

3. Consider doing community service or another activity that you enjoy. These situations present tremendous opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions.

4. Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests, and values with you.

5. Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead, focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships.

It is important to remember that loneliness is a state of mind linked to wanting human contact but feeling alone. People can be alone and not feel lonely, or they can have contact with people and still experience feelings of isolation.

Dr. Schwartz is available for consultation or psychotherapy at Email dransphd@aol.com

Teenagers, Depression and Suicide

Teenagers and Depression and Suicide

Most of us remember our teenage years as being very difficult. I have heard many adults, friends, family members, clients, and others unequivocally state that they would never want to revisit those days. Among the many problems adolescents face are feeling accepted by peers, believing that they are attractive, getting along with parents and siblings. Then there is also coping with school and adjusting to the rapid physical changes brought on by hormones, rapid growth in height, powerful sexual urges, and dealing with the pressure to use drugs and alcohol. It is not surprising that many of these teenagers feel anxiety and depression.

Adolescence is when young people join social groups of males and females. There are parties and the first experience of dating and sexual play. The Covid pandemic has brought these experiences to a halt. Many schools are closed, and most people wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus. These factors are not conducive to socialization. Perhaps, with the pandemic declining, everyone will resume their everyday lives.

Today, adolescents have the added pressure of social media. At least some teens are the targets of these insults and rumors who experience terrible feelings of despair. Sadly, it is easy for bullies of either gender to beat up each other by posting horrible things about youngsters they dislike. The result is shocking reports of suicides committed by these unfortunate youngsters.

During the past two years, teens have struggled with the Covid pandemic. Isolated at home and enduring internet learning, more young people, commit suicide. The quote is from the Baylor College of Medicine:

“During the COVID pandemic, I, along with most pediatricians, have seen an exponential rise in teenagers admitted to the hospital with suicidal thoughts and attempts. Some had been lonely and contemplating suicide for a while. Some made rash decisions and cried of regret when recounting their actions.”

“When a child tries to commit suicide by firearm, they are likely to succeed.”

“The pandemic uniquely affected adolescents. Social isolation, constant uncertainty, stress, and fear have plagued their lives. According to the CDC, teenage emergency room visits for suicide attempts increased significantly during the pandemic, with a 50% rise in cases in females and an almost 4% increase in males. Suicidality among teens in Texas was on the rise before the pandemic. However, most suicidal attempts are not fatal except for guns.”

“In Texas, guns are the second leading cause of death among children and adolescents. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among American youth.”

Teenagers depend upon parental cooperation for psychotherapy. For example, they need to be driven to appointments and be provided with money to pay for sessions. Because of their age, parental involvement is essential for the therapeutic process to succeed. Parental involvement means that there will be joint sessions with the therapist and separate meetings with parents. Many parents are reluctant to get involved because they fear blaming their child’s problems.

 Experience with teenagers shows that parental attitude and cooperation make a big difference in whether the treatment is successful.

There are several ways parents can sabotage psychotherapy:

1. Failure to make the car available to the teen or drive them to the appointment.

 2. Failure to pay for sessions.

 3. Refusal to attend family sessions.

 4. Defensiveness for fear of being blamed.

 5. hostility blaming the teenager for everything.

 6. Rejecting depression as a real medical problem and blaming the teenager.

 7. Attempting to hide a history of child abuse.

All parents must know the importance of teenage depression and the need for psychotherapy. Multiple factors can cause our teens to become depressed, and many of them have nothing to do with the family. Today, children are growing up in a complex, dangerous, and uncertain world. In addition, they’re learning to cope with the opposite sex can become complicated. Breaking up with a boy or girlfriend can cause grief and depression. It is a mistake not to take this seriously.

Dr. Schwartz is available for consultation. He is available at dransphd@aol.com