Olga Steblyk / Sputnik Photography
Humans have always been social creatures. That is the basis on which society was created. An innate need for community and companionship. Friendships, in turn, are part of that natural need for social interaction. Friends are there for important milestones in life, support us in difficult times, share similar interests or hobbies and shape who we are as people.
A lack of friendships can have detrimental impacts on our mental health and quality of life. According to Dr. Jacques Lee, a physician at Mount Sinai Emergency Department, loneliness is as harmful as smoking. It may also be a contributing factor in 45,000 deaths a year in Canada, according to current clinical trials by Mount Sinai Hospital.
Loneliness can be a taboo topic to talk about. Nobody wants to actually admit they’re lonely. Loneliness can feel like a personal failure, like we are defective somehow. Additionally, we’re around people more than ever since the end of the pandemic. We go to school with others, work with other colleagues and see each other’s lives on social media. Yet we are missing that deep, meaningful connection with others.
This loneliness epidemic is particularly prevalent among Generation Z. According to the Canadian Social Survey, one in 10 people aged 15 and up said they always or often felt lonely. Furthermore, young people are more likely to express experiencing loneliness more frequently than older people. It’s a strange paradox that our generation has had to grapple with, which is felt by even those at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“I think it’s easy to make friends in the digital age because it allows you to be a lot more connected, but I don’t think it’s easy to make long-lasting friendships,” said Mona Shavrnoch, a final-year criminology student in the Sussex program. “I think a lot of people tend to stay connected via phone, but generally, I think friendship takes a lot more than that.”
We are the most disconnected hyperconnected generation to have existed. It doesn’t matter how lonely we actually are, as our feelings of loneliness depend on how lonely we perceive ourselves to be. We can be surrounded by a room full of people and still be lonely. The key to combating loneliness is the quality and intentionality we put behind our friendships.
“A true friend requires a level of effort that we can’t always give in our day-to-day because we are so busy with our own stuff. I heavily distinguish friends from people who I speak to briefly. I think the word friendship means a lot and should be taken more seriously than it is,” said Shavrnoch, sharing her definition of what a true friend means to her.
We need to nurture our friendships and approach making friends with an openness, no matter how difficult.
“In order to make friends, you must put yourself out there. Go outside and don’t be afraid to approach people,” said Franchesca Graham, a final-year law and society student in the Sussex program. “The best thing is to be yourself. Start by finding activities and/or communities that align with your values and interests, such as a sports team or a club.”
The loneliness epidemic is only going to get worse as we spend more time working from home and social interaction is automated or takes place through a screen. The only way to manage loneliness is through intentionality. It’s purposely introducing yourself to a stranger, it’s taking up a new hobby or joining a club to meet others with similar interests and it’s putting time aside to spend with your current friends. More importantly, intentionality means enjoying the connections we share with others. All it takes is a change of perspective.