Loneliness refers to the discrepancy between the number and quality of the relationships that you desire and those you have. You can have only two friends, but if you get along really well with them and feel that they meet your needs, you’re not lonely. Or you can be in a crowd and feel all alone.
But loneliness is not just about how you feel. Being in this state can make you behave differently because you have less control over yourself. For example, you’re more likely to binge eat, and you will also feel less motivated to exercise, which is vital for mental and physical health.
Loneliness is literally bad for your health. It has been linked to a lowered immune response and cognitive functioning and an increased risk of chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure and heart disease. It’s even been found that loneliness may be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Further, you start to act and see the world differently. You expect to be rejected more often and become more judgemental of the people you interact with. People that you talk to can feel this, and as a result, start moving away from you, which perpetuates your loneliness cycle. Thus it’s also linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and suicide.
You are lonely.
A cup of tea for one
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated circumstances by triggering a loneliness pandemic. We were cut off from our loved ones, and in our combined efforts to stay safe and save lives, our usual ways of seeing family, friends, or just familiar faces kept being disrupted through lockdowns. Both our physical and mental well-being has been under assault; following one even in death. Moreover, we know of many having died alone or lost loved ones without being able to properly grieve or lay them to rest.
Being infinitely resilient, people the world over, adapted to meeting constraints by finding new ways to stay in touch, most notably by relying on technology to connect during this crisis. This too has had its drawbacks of digital fatigue.
You are lonely in a pandemic.
The elderly typically face a variety of physical challenges such as arthritis, diabetes, oral health issues, hypertension, dementia, etc. They are therefore more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, necessitating stricter isolation. Even before the pandemic, old-age loneliness was a global problem owing to societal trends of individualism and ageism that naturally tend to isolate them. Coupled with the lack of technological facilities, and other issues they face such as economic insecurity and difficulty accessing health care services; these factors make them a definite special needs group in the context of a pandemic.
You are elderly and lonely, in a pandemic.
The world over, selfish acts of citizens ignoring government directives to prevent the spread of Covid 19 such as wearing masks and isolation were rampant. Other unhelpful behaviour such as partying, stock-piling essentials, panic buying and ‘escaping’ to rural areas; further contributed to both the spread of covid and lack of essentials to the elderly.
However, one group of selfless individuals did just the opposite. Madrid Vecina, our deployment of the day, understood that loneliness has less to do with being alone and much more to do with the experience of feeling unseen. And that it is the quality, not quantity, of our relationships that fulfils our need for connectedness. That eliminating loneliness (especially for the elderly) requires a robust social infrastructure.
What are they doing?
How is Madrid Vecina using the Ushahidi Platform?
They are using the platform to map out social resources of interest for the elderly such as health centres, pharmacies, supermarkets, places of worship, public and natural spaces and parks, financial entities, etc.
Their goal is to improve the living conditions of the elderly and sensitise communities to pay attention to the loneliness of the elderly and come to their aid.
Other activities in conjunction with mobilisation through the platform?
They collaborate with public and private organisations to promote activities to stimulate connections between communities (not only between the elderly).
They have engaged business/shop owners to curate routes and information points for the elderly.
Examples of the impact they have achieved using the Ushahidi platform?
They have received almost 120 calls from elders and volunteers asking to support the deployment. They have over 200 shop owners in 4 districts connected to the deployment.
They’ve connected over a thousand elderly people to each other and a support system with younger residents and amenities, creating bonds and eliminating loneliness. See more in this heartwarming video.
Madrid Vecina have taken combating loneliness for the elderly as a moral imperative in an increasingly hyper-individualistic society, where many people often choose to focus on their own well-being or that of their small circle of family and friends, rather than looking outward to ensure the well-being of the community around us.
We believe our moral response would enable them as they support the elderly.
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