One in six young people seriously consider taking their own life after taking their own life, research from the Network Health Research in Disasters shows. One in six. In addition, CBS concluded that young people last year felt ’emotionally lonely’ most often of all population groups. The government wants to launch a study to better understand what can work against loneliness.
The stereotypical image of loneliness is someone who sits alone at home and barely sees or speaks to others. Emotional loneliness is more subtle. Here someone is surrounded by people but still feels completely isolated. This happens mainly in young people. They may see dozens of people every day at school, at the soccer club, or in town, but they cannot form a meaningful connection with these people.
Since this affects so many young people, I am convinced that it is not an individual problem. Apparently there is a social development that makes young people feel lonely and at worst even suicidal. This primarily concerns the following two developments.
First, we create unattainable ideals for a successful life. We used to have the Church that sometimes imposed stifling standards of how to live. Today we have social media and advertising. On the street, in the store, and on our screens, we constantly see images of events we missed, things we don’t have, and ideal bodies that don’t look like ours.
According to psychologist Paul Verhaeghe, this leads to alienation from ourselves: Instead of living according to our own vision and values, we increasingly try to follow society’s unattainable ideals. And anyone who is alienated from himself, writes Verhaeghe, cannot enter into intimate relationships with others.
Also read: ‘I thought: I am a burden to others’
Second, we glorify freedom, personal responsibility and personal development as the greatest goals of life. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. We just seem to have forgotten how much we depend on others for this. You have the freedom to eat what you want only because others produce food for you. In order to become or be responsible, you often also need help from others. You develop mostly in contact with and relationship with others.
There is no place in this culture for vulnerability, attention and care
By forgetting this dependence, we also place less value on caring for others. Instead of asking and listening, we prefer to tell you what we think about something. Instead of thinking about how we want to live together as a community, we vote for a party that best represents our self-interest.
We are increasingly a collection of individuals rather than a community of people who, despite their differences and conflicts, see each other as neighbours.
Young people grow up in this culture. They continuously receive images through all kinds of channels to which they reflect their appearance, their behavior and their feelings. This makes them feel like they are never good enough and they become alienated from themselves. At the same time, the solution to this lies entirely with them. Happiness and success are your responsibility. You just have to work hard for it and develop yourself.
This toxic cocktail causes young people to try harder and harder to pursue an unattainable ideal without taking care of themselves or others. There is no place in this culture for vulnerability, attention and care. And it presupposes all these things, while a genuine connection with others is. You feel most connected when the other person sees and takes your full self, including fears and insecurities, seriously. But how can you still be seen when no one is watching?
Changing this is extremely complicated. First of all, it requires that we become more aware that we are a community of interdependent and vulnerable individuals. A community where we look after each other despite the differences and conflicts that will always exist. We must also teach young people to think more about what makes their lives meaningful, so that they do not blindly try to achieve unattainable ideals.
Reducing loneliness requires a shift to a culture where there is more attention to the other person, our dependence on each other, and our difficult search for a meaningful life. I wish I could make that cover on my own. But I need you.
You can talk about suicide on the national helpline 113 Suicide prevention. Phone 0800-0113 or www.113.nl