Anne Leitrim’s mummified remains were recently found at her home in Bournemouth, Dorset. The 58-year-old former neonatal nurse had been laid beside her bed for 7 years. Neighbours said they believed she had moved away, this despite her windows being left open. She was only found after bailiffs had arrived at her property to recover mortgage payments that were in arrears. They had to wade through a mountain of mail, waist-high to get in.
Some years ago, a destitute father and his young son were found dead at their flat. After his father’s death, there was evidence that his young son, a toddler who was now all alone, had frantically tried to open cupboards to obtain food before he finally succumbed to starvation after a few days.
The finger of blame can not be pointed at anyone in these tragedies, but what should be scrutinized is how this is allowed to happen in today’s society.
Britain is now the proud owner of the title ‘loneliness capital of Europe’. On this evidence with good reason.
In fact, researchers at the Northwestern University in Chicago who studied the association of anxiety and depression within individualistic societies, found the UK to be the most individualistic society in the world. An individualistic society is one that values the ‘self’ over that of the group. Moreover, they found that the more individualistic the society, the greater the levels of depression.
The UK was closely followed by the USA, whereas societies in the Far East such as China fared far better, and were deemed collectivist societies, with more social cohesion and concern for society as a whole.
Loneliness, that being where someone feels isolated to the point that there psychological and physical health can begin to deteriorate, affects many in the UK, young and old alike.
A study by The Big Lunch, a lottery funded initiative, found that just 1 in 3 of the 3000 respondents in their survey bothered to introduce themselves to their neighbours. Often stating that they were ‘too busy’. 18% never saw their neighbours to even say hello. Furthermore, they would treat their neighbours as no more than ‘caretakers’, approaching them to request favours such as asking them to leave out their bins, take in deliveries, keeping an eye on the house and so on. Ensuring contact is kept to a minimum, and on a purely needs-led basis.
Much of this problem has been attributed to the growth of the internet, but this does not tell the whole story. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) found that British employees work the longest hours in Europe, although contradicted in some surveys, the UK is near the top of most surveys on working hours across the board.
Esther Rantzen, TV celebrity and elderly campaigner, also says, ‘I think we are different today in the sense that we’re quite concerned about people’s privacy and don’t want to intrude’. This may be yet another contributory factor.
However, now that this issue has been brought into the public domain we can at least do something about it. Many will turn away and shrug their shoulders, but this effects everyone to some degree, never knowing when you may require the help of a neighbour one day, or just some meaningful social interaction.
Life has a strange way of upsetting the status quo when we least expect it. It sets the tone and circumstances in many ways. The onset of a serious illnesses for instance, to ourselves or a close family member, can alter our daily lives irrevocably, leaving us to reassess those things we take for granted, and increase our dependence on outside help. Clearly, by becoming more mindful of others we would be more likely to receive that help should we ever require it.
As Judi James, Author and Behavioural Expert states, ‘when we know our neighbours we can feel safer and happier. Our boundaries expand and our sense of loneliness and isolation shrinks’. This sounds like a valuable motto to live by.