The English poet John Donne famously coined the phrase “no man is an island” in a work entitled Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, published in 1624. Referring to the idea that as humans we are social beings, relying on interconnection with others to flourish, it is an often quoted saying when speaking about the subject of being on our own.
The Natural World
On television recently I caught a programme following a team of wildlife experts who happened to be engaged in the rescuing of two swans. They had flown into a building site which had two large pools of water, and unfortunately had each ended up on their own (one in each pool). They could hear each other but could not see each other, as the pools were separated by high sides. Swans will usually mate for life, forming a long-lasting bond, and it was thought that this pair’s separation was distressing for them both. Eventually the wildlife team managed to catch the pair and they were reunited in a safer environment. The welcome outcome re-established the connection between the couple, and so the intervention was deemed a success.
The Office for National Statistics published a report in 2015 stating that 59% of all people aged 85 and over in the U.K. live alone. With this being the case, it is perhaps unsurprising that the charity Age UK reports that for over half of older people, television is their main source of “company”. If we were to agree that no man is an island – or that no man should be an island – then the problem posed by social isolation becomes clear. If a swan ‘misses’ a partner when the two are separated, how much more would separation from a partner, family or friends affect a person?
Some of the clients I see in my professional practice are experiencing low mood in part because of a lack of interaction with others. This is exacerbated by the fact that mental wellbeing issues can sometimes make it difficult to mix socially, especially if the client finds that they are not accepted as they would like to be, perhaps through stigma or others’ ignorance. Working on strategies to promote social inclusion, be the client young or old, can often bear fruit over time. It strikes me that isolation from others can be experienced by anyone. An accepting, respectful relationship with a trusted other can be a sound base from which to work on cultivating the healthy social bonds necessary for successful interaction.
If you find yourself in a place where isolation is not currently a problem for you, how would you feel about reaching out to a neighbour in your street or the flat next-door? Can you think of somebody you know in your life for whom a short conversation or even a text message today might mean the difference between them connecting with someone else, or not?
~ Rob Oglesby MBACP B.A. (Hons) BSc | Ashwood Therapy
[Ashwood Therapy provides a discreet, confidential and professional online counselling service by encrypted video call, live instant messaging and secure email. More details, including tips on wellbeing and information on current counselling session pricing, can be found at http://www.ashwoodtherapy.com/]