Loneliness: Not an Individual but a Social Issue
Loneliness: Not an Individual but a Social Issue
  • 강민주 기자
  • 승인 2024.03.22 14:22
  • 댓글 0
이 기사를 공유합니다

 Where does your loneliness come from? Various factors, ranging from individual issues to social circumstances, can trigger feelings of loneliness. In general, loneliness is the sorrowful feeling that comes from being alone. But there is more to loneliness than simply being alone. Years ago, people regularly regarded loneliness as an individual problem. However, we all experienced a similar kind of loneliness following the outbreak of COVID-19. Having nowhere to reach out made us feel lonelier than being alone. Therefore, loneliness should be defined as a breakdown in the social support system for an individual. Just as loneliness cannot be caused by a single factor, we cannot solve it with a single solution. But now, the world has taken its first steps to deal with the serious issue of loneliness.


Loneliness: The Social Issue

 In 2018, the U.K. appointed a Minister for Loneliness, and Japan appointed a Minister of Loneliness to the prime mister’s cabinet in 2021. That means that these countries will deal with loneliness as a social issue. You might think that people can solve their loneliness by themselves. But individuals are ill-equipped to cope with the social dimension of loneliness. In the future, there will be a smaller workforce and a larger number of one-person households than now. That is, people under risk of social isolation will increase. Several countries must prepare for this upcoming situation. If we neglect the social problem of loneliness, these countries will face greater social costs, like suicide and crimes.


Lonely Deaths: Directly Linked to Loneliness

Lonely deaths, or ‘godoksa’ in Korean, is when someone dies alone in their home and is then found by somebody after a few days. Over 3,000 people were found dead alone in 2021, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s first investigation into lonely death. The younger the age, the higher the prevalence of lonely deaths due to suicide has been confirmed. Every year, the number of lonely deaths is over four times higher in men than in women, and the age group with the highest proportion is found to be in their 50s and 60s. According to reports, the elderly population face challenges exacerbated due to the care gap. Many of the elderly people under lonely death were found the recipients of basic livelihood support and the objects for customized elderly care services. Unfortunately, in spite of the regular visits from the workers to support their living, their solitary death occurred during the absence of the care gaps, usually during the weekends. Therefore, given the varying degrees of seriousness across different age groups, meticulous measures addressing each specific cause are necessary.


The Korean Government’s Efforts to Loneliness and Lonely Death

 Last year, May, the Ministry of Health and Welfare unveiled the initial blueprint for preventing lonely deaths. The following programs are outlined as components of the plan on its blog.

  • Guardians against lonely deaths: Residents and store owners play a role as community-based guardians for the prevention of social isolation in day-today life.
  • Efforts to foster community gatherings: Cultural facilities are utilized within the community to offer arts and sports programs, and family centers in specific regions are utilized to provide gatherings tailored to the life cycle of individuals living alone.
  • Age-specific tailored services: For the young, the mental health checkup cycle will be shortened from 10 to 2 years and one-on-one counseling will be supported via youth mental health vouchers. For the middle-aged, there will be an effort to promote chronic disease management and lifestyle improvements through services and accompanied visits to hospitals such as daily-life care. For the elderly, they will receive help through volunteer assistance and a special program called ‘Nono Care,’ which aims to have seniors care for each other. In addition, advanced funeral preparations and public funeral services, as well as psychological stabilization programs will be offered for the bereaved families.

 How about looking into the programs operated in your community? You may find information about services that you need on websites or local news based in your area. Please read carefully through the details of services provided before you participate in them. And check the qualifications to see if you qualify, then apply. The feedback that you leave after participation will be helpful for making future development plans better.

 Despite the government’s efforts, many citizens still perceive shortcomings to current policies. First, the financial support provided to elderly individuals living alone, who are at risk of dying in isolation, is insufficient. Most of them have health issues. But the given financial assistance is barely enough to cover utility bills, let alone the cost of medical tests. They avoid going to the hospital even when they are sick. Second, the criteria for counting lonely deaths vary from region to region. Of course, it is wrong to measure urban and rural areas with the same standards, given the significant differences in population and social interactions. However, the measurement criteria are aimed at identifying high-risk groups. Rather than focusing on the possibility of discovering a body several days after, assessing a person’s level of social isolation and their income could be proactive measures.


A Society without Loneliness and Lonely Death

 Finally, a fundamental new approach to loneliness is necessary. People in Korea tend to overly adhere to normality. Because the number of those who accept diversity is still modest. However, society is already composed of diverse individuals, and the concept of ‘normal’ may exist only as a word. Since everyone experiences different circumstances, living in various ways is the essence of society. If we consider survival of the fittest as an inherent aspect of society, loneliness will likely increase. Therefore, a social system that allows individuals to live as they are must be established. That is, I believe, the way of living in a society without loneliness.

삭제한 댓글은 다시 복구할 수 없습니다.
그래도 삭제하시겠습니까?
댓글 0
0 / 400
계정을 선택하시면 로그인·계정인증을 통해
댓글을 남기실 수 있습니다.