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SOCIAL ISOLATION

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Wikipedia states that “social isolation is a state of near complete lack of contact between an individual and society. It differs from loneliness, which reflects temporary an involuntary lack of contact with other humans in the world.  Social isolation can be an issue for individuals of any age group, though symptoms may differ by age groups”

Social isolation has become an increasingly challenging social issue in the United Kingdom. There are many reasons why this problem has evolved as a social consequence.

We are living in an age of rapidly advancing technology and social media; whereby human contact is at risk of becoming disengaged and disconnected. Human contact is reduced and replaced by automation and computerisation. Society is becoming more and more reliant on mechanisation and these are challenges in having actual conversations Telephone enquiries are answered by press one press two and so on, and we are answered by well-spoken automated woman telling us what to do and how to access services and enquiries. Conversations are replaced by people engaging in texting on their mobile phones Indeed, I have witnessed couples out at dinner and both head are down, concentrating on their mobile phones. They are not conversing with each other or making eye contact. Automation has catapulted us into a world of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Whilst there are vast advantages, both now, and in the future and our lives are enhanced by technology, there needs to be an awareness of the risks of over reliance on technological systems. We shop online and have our groceries delivered and this facilitates a convenience that we do not have to go to the shops or leave the house. If we do go to the supermarket we are persuaded to go to the self-service machine, again getting another pleasant automated robotic telling us where to place our goods.  Automation is impacting workforces and machines are replacing people People will go to work, joining social communities, have conversations and have a purpose in life. If workforces are reduced, redundancy and retirement are at the fore.  Whilst most people  look forward to retirement and hope to  and hope to enjoy all the benefits it brings, such as getting up when one wants, not having to commute, having time to enjoy hobbies and pastimes, and having time to catch up with friends and family, there is a negative side to this that is unexpected and can nudge one into social isolation Friends may be working and leading lives of their own and are not so available, the routine of meeting colleagues at work and socialising, having a chat, working together are gone. Social and work routine is not the norm. Redundancy may also bring its own challenges. Perhaps, some people may experience feelings of being unwanted, forced out of the workplace, and maybe and maybe must face up to the fact that one is getting older.

Remote working is becoming increasingly popular. Working from home has huge benefits for both organisations and for the employee, flexibility of time and location to name but a few, however, again are we not becoming isolated in the workplace? If one is disciplined it should be ideal, but again, there is a risk of isolation as automated communication takes the place of conversation

Whilst it is important to differentiate between social isolation and loneliness, the boundaries can become blurred. Feelings of loneliness or how we feel in certain situations can happen to us at any time, any age and anywhere in our lives. Social isolation is often caused by events beyond our control. I would suggest that feelings of loneliness may have a stigma attached to it and we may not want to admit we are feeling lonely. Events that are sometimes beyond our control, such as bereavement, play a part in facilitating feelings of loneliness and experiences of being alone.  Having a partner or loved one who has gone out of our lives causes psychological pain. The person that we did things together with has disappeared and suddenly “We” becomes “I”. Some teenagers may become isolated by sitting in their rooms all day playing computer games and this also has risk of becoming socially isolated. We can watch films and box sets of television programmes, shop online, talk to  friends on Facebook and have all our living and entertainment requirements met from the comfort of our own homes, but physically the need to go out for these activities is declining, therefore I would suggest that this reduces social interaction and connectivity .

Part of    Social isolation has been equated with an ageing population and there are many organisations addressing this such as Age UK, however the issues that contribute to social isolation of older people are many. As we age our health may decline and mobility issues can restrict socialisation. The ability to go out go out unassisted becomes more of a challenge. Lack of access to transport systems should be factored in, friends and partners in their social network may have died or become disabled or become chronically ill themselves, the erosion of communities and development of tower blocks has also impacted and added to the causes of solitude. Furthermore, financial constraints and cutbacks in social care have put untenable strains on the social care system which in turn has impacted and added to the causation of solitude.

The effects of social isolation on physical and mental health can have serious and damaging results. Lack of social contact may lead to:

  • Declining cognitive ability
  • A disinterest in self care
  • Restricted mobility
  • Decreasing functionality and mobility
  • Lowering of self-esteem and confidence
  • Compulsive eating
  • Alcohol and substance misuse and addiction
  • Depression

The damaging effects of isolation on health and wellbeing is an emotionally charged scenario for people who once lived full and active lives, contributed to society, contributed to the economy, and raised families. Despite the excellent work being undertaken by organisations to address this social problem, Government must take a lead on this and an ageing population must be a more well-informed population, considering all aspects of ethnicity and diversity. Navigation of public education for individuals at risk of being on their own is essential.

We, ourselves are creating a society of self-sufficiency and self-reliance with our close relationships with technology, and whilst I acknowledge all the benefits that this brings, are we also not creating our own isolation pods? There is still a need to socialise and have an awareness that social interaction and connectivity is a fundamental element in the evolution of man and womenkind. Perhaps we are at risk of becoming a faceless society if we reduce the chances of manoeuvrability and flexibility for human contact.

www.ageuk.org

www.cruse.org.uk. Bereavement support.

SABINA KELLY RN B.Sc. (Hons) Ba (Hons)

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