Modern societies are experiencing an isolation pandemic. More people than ever live alone and grow old alone. Neoliberal policies have been embers over fire. Jobs are increasingly precarious and, when employment disappears, it is easier to remain isolated. An inertia that acquires speed with the decline of civil associations, neighborhood groups or unions. "The capitalist system promotes individualistic attitudes, which ignites hostility among people. A more modern and sociable society would be one that fosters cooperative rather than competitive relations as a force for progress", Reflects Carlos Martín, director of the Economic Cabinet of Workers' Commissions.
Because the price that has to be paid to Charon is very high. Health costs first. Loneliness has the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases, according to Stanford University, a 31% risk of dying. It is the trigger of diseases such as hypertension, dementia, heart attacks or depression. Then comes the payment of the silver coin. The The New Economics Foundation estimates that the cost in the UK of isolation of people of working age is 2,500 million pounds (2,800 million euros) per year. In the long term, the London School of Economics (LSE) foresees, those over 55 years of age with chronic loneliness will cost 6,000 pounds annually per person to health services and local institutions. The pandemic travels the meridians of the planet and urges the answers. "In some societies, and increasingly in the UK, the connection between older adults and young people is less intense," says David McDaid, a professor at the LSE. He adds: "The most important thing is contact. The ability to have an enriching conversation regularly with other people. "
The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, included at the beginning of the year within the Ministry of Sports and Civil Society a cabinet dedicated to loneliness. It has a budget of 20 million pounds to deal with a problem that corners 1.3 million British adults. The consultant Forrester Research has studied this shadow. He has set himself up as "the least fit for the future". They are those who contribute less to work and express greater negative feelings towards their peers. They live in the isolation slums. "50% of the population is half as productive as it could be if it were 'fit for the future'. If we take this measure literally, we see that 25% of all productivity is lost because that half does not reach its potential, "observes James McQuivey, an analyst at the firm.
Impact on health
However, although it is difficult to trace the econometry of homelessness, Stanford University and AARP, the powerful lobby that brings together older Americans, have followed their trail. Of the 30 million elderly people included in Medicare (the US public health insurance), about 4 million are socially isolated. "These people are prone to worse health. They suffer from hypertension, early symptoms of dementia, increased risk of heart disease, influenza. This gives Medicare extra health costs of at least $ 6.7 billion per year, "calculates Lisa Marsh, president of the AARP foundation.
The problem is a chill. "Loneliness is killing us," Republican Senator Ben Sasse said with anguish. He has closed his eyes and seen thousands of earth mounds pass by. They correspond to the 45,000 Americans who commit suicide this year and the 70,000 who will die from drug overdoses. This pain is rampant with people with fewer resources. The isolation gap – holds a September AARP job – is 13 points higher for those earning less than $ 40,000 a year versus those who enter more than that amount. The challenge arises immensely because behind algebra there are real lives. "To alleviate the poverty caused by loneliness we should act in the personal environment (family, friends, neighbors) of those who feel alone and at the same time reduce the cost of their basic expenses such as food or maintenance of the house", recommends Paco Abad, founder of the consulting firm Empresa & Sociedad.
The aging Japanese society has become, according to the OECD, the loneliest country in the world. A few months ago, a Japanese weekly titled on its cover: "4,000 deaths in solitude a week." It is the portrait of a national alarm and also the consequence of a trip that the country started in the sixties. The obsession with growth and, later, a painful stagflation that affected, above all, the previous generation has unraveled families and communities. And now they are caught in a demographic crossroads. They will live longer, but few children are born. The extreme loneliness of the elderly is so common that around them has grown a new industry that is dedicated to cleaning the apartments where their decaying remains are found. "It's tremendous because the way you die says a lot about how you've lived," says Laura Ferrándiz, an octogenarian who lives alone in the center of Madrid. Photography is hard but real. "The social consequences of isolation are enormous. We need to change the way we interconnect with each other and focus on building community. We need to connect, "says Marissa King, a professor at the Yale University business school. "For every dollar spent on preventing loneliness, three could be saved," he estimates.
Those figures that count for the US do not exist in Spain. There is a job like the New Economics Foundation that reveals the invoice of loneliness. However, the isolation leaves its traces. "The most affected groups are the elderly, the homeless, those in a situation of poverty, the unemployed and immigrants," remarks Juan Carlos Alcaide, Esic professor. "In addition, there are more and more people living alone. 25.4% of homes in Spain are made up of a single individual ". We speak of 4.7 million people. The uprooting grows and Charon charges his health tax. The cost of mental illness, according to OECD, accounts for 4.2% of the country's wealth. More than 48,000 million euros. This high figure would be unimaginable without the long shadow of loneliness.
In the radiography of consumption in Spain silence is revealed. 25% of households have a single member. They represent 16% of the total expenditure that Spaniards spend to fill the pantry with consumer products. And every year they allocate more money. It was the type of household where it grew the most (5.9%) last year the disbursement in this class of articles. But what image do X-rays reveal? "They buy three times a week and prefer nearby places, short assortment stores and specialists," says Carmen Ana Lorenzo, expert at the Consumer Panel of the Nielsen consultancy. They are people who reflect a lot in the mirror. "These homes care more about them (facial treatment, makeup, body care) and their pets, and there is even more room for whims (chocolates, nuts, Christmas candy)," says Lorenzo. A consumer who listens to their own echoes.