Since I started writing this blog, I have been struck by how the Church really is the expert par exellence in humanity. The Church knows that we are made for communion, for relation, and that this is essential for our happiness. Everyone else is only just catching up: the Daily Express reports that there is a link between loneliness and dementia.
I don't agree with their headline, that an active social life is the key, and later in the article they identify that it is feeling alone rather than being or living alone which is the important factor. In university we were taught that "people with fewer social contacts are more likely to commit suicide". That seems to suggest that it is being alone rather than experiencing loneliness which leads to ideation of suicide. But I would imagine that it is experiencing loneliness rather than being alone which contributes to depression. The correlation between depression and suicide is not well defined, but now appears to be less than 10% among all depressed people (although only 2% for the majority of people with depression) compared with 1% in the general population. Given that ideation of suicide is a symptom of depression, as well as the fact that depression interferes with normal rational thought processes, 2% seems fairly low.
There is also a strong link between depression and other illnesses. People with chronic illness are more likely to become depressed, and people with depression are at greater risk from other illnesses. Demonstrating direct causality here is probably nigh on impossible, given the number of interconnected factors involved...diet, medication, employment, relationship... Obviously there is going to be some overlap between being alone and feeling lonely and single households are now the most common type in the UK.
If this is a step up from last week's reduction to the biological it is still a reduction of the human person, only this time to the bio-psychological. Two out of three ain't bad, but there is a hierarchy and the spiritual always gets top billing. The first communion to which we are invited is communion with God. Faith and communion with God can transform and elevate all the other experiences of our lives, even illness and suffering. With God's presence, even loneliness is transformed and dispelled. But people are not going to realise this when five million only have their television for company (especially if they watch Eastenders). It's Advent, God is coming, so go and see one of the five million and tell them about it!