Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga, announced a minister of loneliness to his cabinet last month, closely following a similar announcement in January 2018 by the United Kingdom (UK). Loneliness is rarely acknowledged, deeply misunderstood, and alongside anxiety and depression, presents a massive opportunity for rectification as India copes with Covid-19 and beyond. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga, announced a minister of loneliness to his cabinet last month, closely following a similar announcement in January 2018 by the United Kingdom (UK). Loneliness is rarely acknowledged, deeply misunderstood, and alongside anxiety and depression, presents a massive opportunity for rectification as India copes with Covid-19 and beyond. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There is a looming epidemic — of loneliness. Take it seriously

India has a real opportunity to showcase solutions to a global audience towards using the best of tech and expertise in reducing loneliness. While a dedicated ministry for loneliness may just be the impetus, all we need is to look for are basic ways and means to help people who are on the brink of feeling lonely.
By Saumyajit Roy
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2021 02:14 PM IST

Imagine a hypothetical scenario. Vibha Saxena, a 72-year-old professor of literature, has spent her life in Dehradun, where her children grew up and where her husband passed away a year ago. Though she lives alone, Saxena cannot think of a time she ever felt lonely. Why? Because her day has been curated by her relationship manager. At 8 am sharp, she calls Saxena to check in, sharing news headlines and reminding her to be ready for her online class in the evening.

Saxena looks forward to these conversations, comforted in knowing that there is someone available at the click of a button. At 10 am, Saxena’s app alerts her to take her medications. By 10.30 am, her home is cleaned by a team arranged by the manager. At lunchtime, a professional meal service, organised by the same manager, arrives with the special diet necessary for her heart condition.

In the afternoon, Saxena’s app reminds her it is time for her online English Literature class. She logs in and is excited to see a global audience for her class on Shakespeare, welcoming her with loud applause. After a busy day, Saxena looks forward to having dinner in peace while video-chatting with her newfound friend who she met online recently.

This imaginary life represents the possibilities in the battle against loneliness, an epidemic running so deep and with such impact, that it dwarfs Covid-19.

Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga, announced a minister of loneliness to his cabinet last month, closely following a similar announcement in January 2018 by the United Kingdom (UK). Loneliness is rarely acknowledged, deeply misunderstood, and alongside anxiety and depression, presents a massive opportunity for rectification as India copes with Covid-19 and beyond.

Considered a taboo subject, with most adults too scared to admit that they are lonely, the UK itself has close to 33% and the United States (US) close to 50% of its people who accept they are lonely. In India, as per the recently released Longitudinal Ageing Study of India, approximately 23% of elderly stay alone, without children. While loneliness can have an impact across ages and be relevant irrespective whether you stay alone or in a full house, it is most common among those above 60 and affects almost everyone at some point in time.

The impact of loneliness on our physical and mental health is acute, with resultant challenges in blood pressure, increased likelihood of dementia and depression. Yet, as a result perhaps of our childhood socialisation, no one likes to admit that they are lonely. We are trained to grow up trying to show a false sense of connectivity, a false sense of happiness and independence, and this has been the underlying driver for the growth of social media. The impact of loneliness has been compared to having 15 cigarettes a day and, left unchecked, can cause severe mental wellness challenges. Loneliness, on the other hand, should not be mixed with solitude where one is at peace spiritually with one’s self and does not mind staying alone.

Thankfully, the vaccine for loneliness exists, right in our midst. Our local communities, social support systems, family and friends, even social media, and online and offline-curated programming can help reduce the sense of emptiness that accompanies loneliness. It also helps to build on India’s expertise with hospitality and consumer services brands, which have created great concepts and models of engaging their customers through trained “relationship managers”. If we extend this same concept to people who are lonely and alone, we could perhaps bridge the gap that leads to feelings of loneliness.

India has a real opportunity to showcase solutions to a global audience towards using the best of tech and expertise in reducing loneliness. While a dedicated ministry for loneliness may just be the impetus, all we need is to look for are basic ways and means to help people who are on the brink of feeling lonely. In our world, we have seen the magic of that one call every day. This shouldn’t be so difficult if you can make it your daily ritual to call at least one person who you know is alone. And see that transformation happen.

Saumyajit Roy is a co-founder and CEO, Emoha EldercareThe views expressed are personal

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