Jordi Ramon Rizo (Barcelona, 1967) assures that loneliness is “the pandemic of the 21st century”. He is a nurse at the adult mental health center (CSMA) in Cornellà de Llobregat (Barcelona), which is part of the Parc Sanitari Sant Joan de Déu. Ramon is also ‘detector of solitudes’.
The social work of Sant Joan de Déu has just launched the ‘Cafè Solidari’ campaign, to which 400 establishments in the metropolitan area of Barcelona have adhered: del. October 21 to 30, all coffees consumed at these venues will go to the program on the unwanted loneliness from the center.
How is loneliness detected? People who are lonely have no ties to encourage them: there is nothing. The discourse is always pessimistic, there is no rope they can hold on to. In general it is a day by day loneliness, there is no one. Loneliness is increasing more. With the pandemic it has shot up: in older people it has doubled and in young people it has quadrupled.
And how do you help them? Working at the adult mental health center (CSMA) in Cornellà de Llobregat, I travel a lot to the primary care center (CAP) in the area. I noticed that we were referred to many older people diagnosed with depression, dysthymia, anxiety, who actually had a break in their ties with life. What was happening to them was that they had a problem of loneliness. So we created, 10 years ago, a loneliness group.
What is it? First: loneliness is a social and health problem, but I think we are medicalizing it and labeling it too much. I believe that loneliness has to have a social solution as well, but currently it is treated only as something medical, as something related to depression, to anxiety. Through this loneliness group, we get these people out of the healthcare system and into the community. When they come in, we ask them to write down three or four things they would like to do. I also give them a course on how to use a cell phone because we have a whatsapp group -which, by the way, during the pandemic was great for us. We all meet in the community, in the civic center, in the library. We propose activities, they do theater, dance, in addition to working on fears, relational patterns… Because people age as they have lived.
“People who have been more dedicated to family, work and children, find it hard to connect with the community.”
In what way? People who have lived more in community, who have had friends, social relationships, age in a more qualitative way. People who have devoted themselves more to family, work and children, in general find it very difficult to connect with the community. Unwanted loneliness is not only experienced by people who live alone, but also by many who have children.
How many people are in the loneliness group? In 2013, I started running a group of 12 people and now there are more than 100 people coming to the group. When I started, they were angry with the world, everything bothered them: someone answering twice, the perfume of the person sitting next to them… Now the group is very caring, when a new person comes they welcome them and take care of them. They are a “family”. Now, they themselves are able to detect the loneliness of the ‘other’ and bring people into the group.
“We feel more lonely because we have lost the qualitative part of relationships. People have many friends but not quality ones.”
What is the profile? The group is attended by people from 60 to 94 years of age. Most of them are women – the data indicate that three quarters of the people suffering from loneliness are women. There are all kinds of cases: from a man who lost his wife after 62 years of living together and who explained that he did not want antidepressants because he was not depressed, but because he was missing the person with whom he had lived practically all his life. Sadness was his way of being close to his wife and he just wanted tools to keep on living. There are also women who feel very lonely being with a partner because they have the feeling that there is no one around – the partner only shows up for lunch or dinner – and the children don’t call or visit them much.
But young people also suffer from loneliness. Yes. In Barcelona, 26% of young people between 12 and 16 years old have severe loneliness. And 50% of people over 80 years old are lonely. Every two days a person dies in loneliness. Loneliness is in all stages of life.
Why, if we are more connected than ever? Because we have lost the qualitative part of relationships. People have many friends but there are not so many quality friendships.
“Loneliness causes sadness, depression, anxiety, but it also increases cardiovascular risk.”
What are the health effects of loneliness? It produces sadness, depression, anxiety: major mental health diseases. A study we did shows that it also increases cardiovascular risk, because people abandon themselves, stop eating well, do not leave the house. The ultimate expression of this is suicide. Many people who commit suicide are people who feel lonely.
And what needs to be done to address this? To accompany. At Sant Joan de Déu we are trying to change the model to stop medicalizing so much and to humanize more. We must return again to affection: to hugs, to kisses, to caring for the one-on-one. And above all, we have to work on it in a more social way.
What is the importance of events like the ‘Cafè Solidari’? To make people aware of this problem: with a small gesture such as a coffee in one of these 400 establishments, we will all do our bit to address unwanted loneliness.