Loneliness and the importance of friends

I really don’t know if this is the right title or forum but I have been thinking of this a lot lately and had to get it out of my head.

In 2016, Lifeline conducted a survey and it found that 82 percent of participants said they felt loneliness was increasing in society with 60 percent surveyed saying they often felt lonely. Three years later and nothing much has changed. If anything, it has gotten worse. Increases in technology, especially social media was developed to bring people together but it often leaves people feeling more apart than ever.

A new study was released last month that said that despite many studies over the year citing the ills of social media in creating a ‘loneliness epidemic’ it was actually having the opposite effect and still continues to bring people together all across the corners of the world.

I guess I am one of the lucky ones in society that feels connected by using social media. With my husband’s family in Egypt and friends across the globe, I enjoying keeping in contact using Facebook to see kids grow up, adventures, and the occasional private message to chat and provide updates about what has been happening in life.

A little over a week ago, I met with a small group of girlfriends, one with breast cancer and the other with brain tumours. The purpose of the lunch was to catch up as we hasn’t seen each other in a while and to welcome a newcomer to Canberra who didn’t meet anyone since moving here a few months ago.It was a great lunch, we laughed and shared stories and spoke about future plans. We all met, aha, through social media!

I met yesterday another friend, he called my work when he found out I have the same cancer and he read the article in the Canberra Times. A really lovely fellow, we also shared laughs and coffee and a mutual love of architecture. We didn’t talk about the illness too much – cancer does not define us, we mainly talked about how architecture should bring people together like how high density living in European cities aims to create a sense of community.

In the 1970’s there was a boom in the role of psychology in architecture as urban planners tried to address social issues such as crime, delinquency and isolation through the creation of green spaces and ‘people before profit’ planning. It wasn’t always successful as there have been some examples of government housing being demolished not long after development due to a failure to address these issues.

As more Australians report feeling lonely in their lives and with the increase of mental health issues in society, one of the main questions developers, especially in places such as Canberra should be thinking is, “how can we create a sense of community that is affordable and accessible?” As more Australians choose apartment living over detached housing on a quarter acre block (due to affordability), developers need to think less about trying to cram as many apartments to maximise revenue, and more about creating homes where people can feel safe, connected and valued as citizens.

A very close girlfriend of mine, who due to life circumstances has become more like a sister to me confided that she felt like she was in a very dark place a week or so ago and rather than reaching out, she kept that to herself. I said to her that being a friend is not just being there for the good times, it is about being there for the bad. And more than anyone, a friend should be there when you feel at your lowest point. I was hurt, not that she kept that from me, but because she felt she couldn’t share that with me for fear of rejection. I felt hurt for her – not for myself. Hurt that she felt that way.

I’m very lucky that I have a really amazing bunch of people that love and support me and my family. Heck, I’ve seen how incredibly kind Canberran’s can be. People who don’t even know me! I’m very lucky that because of this, I don’t feel lonely. But many Australians do feel lonely. Even some of my closest friends and family feel lonely and that hurts.

I just really want to say that if you ever feel lonely, talk to someone. If someone asks how you are, don’t mask how you feel. Don’t bottle up your emotions. Be honest, chances are the person you are talking to would have felt that way at some point. And who knows, you may even gain a friend.

If you are reading this and feel lonely, please grab your phone and call or text a friend and ask to chat and tell them how you feel. If you feel you need some additional help, Lifeline counsellors are available 24/7 on 13 11 44.

If you’re a friend of mine reading this and you feel lonely, I’m only a click or call away. Remember, friends love you even when you feel like you don’t love yourself.


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