In Spain it is estimated that approximately one in four homes is inhabited by a single person. The corollary of this independence is the irruption of unwanted loneliness, a phenomenon that is already making societies react to the psychological and social problems that it is producing. The Nordic countries pioneered decades ago with Olof Palme’s Sweden at the helm. But the ravages continue to spread. In the UK and Japan, Ministries have already been created to fight it. And in Spain, Asturias already has an institutional plan, the Justice of Aragon draws up reports and the city councils of Madrid and Barcelona have initiatives against loneliness.
At least 23,800 women over 65 suffer from loneliness in Cantabria
Civil society also sets up structures to raise awareness of this “pandemic”. In Cantabria, for decades, Unate-Universidad Permanente has been belligerent against unwanted loneliness, especially by the elderly and women. And more recently The Association Against Unwanted Loneliness It has just opened a Delegation in Cantabria and has the former medical director of the Valdecilla Hospital, Fernando Villoria, as its delegate.
The Association against Loneliness is chaired by Lázaro González and its honorary president is the former socialist minister Matilde Fernández. This national organization, which branches out through the autonomies, has a more institutional approach, that is, it seeks to make the institutions react so that they intervene against what appears to be a luxury, such as being able to lead an independent life, but it ends up being a trouble.
Fernando Villoria Díez, a retired doctor from Santander, studied Medicine at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the specialty of Pathological Anatomy at the Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid. Subsequently, he studied a Master in Hospital Management at the University of Cantabria. His professional concerns have been the clinic as a pathologist at the Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital, the management of hospitals as the medical director of said hospital and also patient safety and quality of care. He has been responsible for quality care in the Cantabrian Health Service.
Is loneliness a problem of rich societies?
Loneliness is one of the most important social and health challenges of this 21st century. It is caused by increased life expectancy, new forms of coexistence, and changes in family models, rural depopulation, etc. Unwanted loneliness affects all social groups, ages and sexes, but statistics show that the prevalence is high among the elderly and especially women. However, it is not a problem for the rich. It affects everyone, only the rich defend themselves better because they have more resources.
What is the Association Against Unwanted Loneliness?
Loneliness constitutes one of the greatest risks for the deterioration of people’s health and a factor that favors falling into dependency. Says the World Health Organization. It is one of the great pandemics of the 21st century and it will worsen in the future in an increasingly aging society. The Association against Unwanted Loneliness focuses on combating the loneliness of thousands of people who suffer from this serious problem in Spain, with a significant presence of older people and women. Our mission pursues the creation of a network of organizations and institutions that work together in this common goal: to fight against unwanted loneliness.
Who constitutes the Association?
Our Association is a plural organization made up of independent and heterogeneous people who share values of coexistence, solidarity and community participation as the best way to build a cohesive society in which no person feels alone or abandoned.
It is not a problem of the rich. It affects everyone, only the rich defend themselves better because they have more resources
How can one act against unwanted loneliness?
The objectives of our association, to combat unwanted loneliness, are to have data on the distribution and characteristics of loneliness, create a social conscience and, finally, influence society to find solutions. We intend to create a social conscience to help to the people who need it and we want to involve public and private administrations, social organizations, unions, CEOE, volunteers, and especially municipalities, which are closer to citizens, so that they promote preventive actions and against loneliness. desired.
And what is the role of the administrations?
The administrations are not fighting against loneliness because they do not know the magnitude of its existence. They have no data or evidence. That is why our goal is to help all of us be aware that loneliness exists and that it is hidden in many cases by the shame felt by those who suffer from it.
Why feel ashamed?
This is a very encrypted problem. People do not tell that they are alone; They say that a tooth hurts, but not the soul. Why? There is a stigma, it is seen as a pittance and it is hidden. We want to fight the stigma and tell people that it is okay to tell and we also want to tell the Administration to do something.
Returning to the institutions, is loneliness just a welfare problem?
We want to contact public institutions to develop and support prevention and care programs for people who suffer from loneliness. Loneliness is not just a welfare issue. We want, for example, that people can be at home and not enter a residence until the last minute. A nursing home is the last resort. We need municipalities and regional governments to be able to help us live at home, even if we are living alone, with home care and telecare. We must deinstitutionalize, as recommended in a report by the European Union. And ultimately, if we have to go to a residence, we want it to be located in the urban nucleus, and not in an open field.
Can you point out any institutional action that is being carried out that catches your attention?
The Municipality of Cabezón de la Sal de Cantabria, for example, has promoted group walks, group excursions twice a week to encourage coexistence and physical exercise. They are called the ‘turtles’ and the ‘hares’ depending on their speed and they don’t fail every week, rain or not.
Does unwanted loneliness have a remedy?
It will never end. It can be fought, but it does not end. It is like the virus. You have to learn to live with it.