We examine loneliness among people with special needs in Denmark in this issue. But more importantly, we share advice on how to break free from loneliness and create human connections.
Text: Sara R. Newell / Michaela Medveďová
If you are experiencing feelings of loneliness, there is nothing like Valentine's Day to really make you feel left out and alone. Although feeling lonely is unwelcome, it is a universal emotion all people share.
We propose that you don't assume that your happiness depends on your relationship status but that you use this Valentine's Day to create bonds and human connections with others, especially with others who also feel lonely.
One group of people who are especially prone to loneliness is people with special needs. The additional hurdles they face in their lives may cause them to experience the feeling of loneliness more often and for longer periods, and its effects may be even more detrimental to their health and quality of life.
There's someone lonely in the state of Denmark
Many barriers people with mental or physical disabilities face in Danish society, such as lack of access to buildings, need for more accessible modes of transportation, health issues, or lack of financial resources, can become walls that stop people with special needs from socialising and making friends. In some cases, these barriers can even result in a life of solitude and isolation.
Perhaps one of the most significant factors contributing to loneliness among people with special needs is the lack of understanding and acceptance from people without disabilities and society as a whole.
Loneliness is unfortunately also common among children and young adults. A 2019 report from Statens Institut for Folkesundhed, which deals with the effects of disability or illness on the life of youth with mental diagnoses, shows that:
Loneliness is experienced by 20% of pupils with mental diagnoses attending the fifth or sixth grade and 16% of students in upper secondary education - compared to only 5% of children and young adults without mental disability or diagnosis.
Feelings of loneliness are often rooted in a lack of social inclusion with peers. According to a survey from Danske Handicaporganisationer:
60% of parents whose child has a disability experience that their child is not a part of the social community at their schools.
46% of them reported the same social exclusion of their child in the child's free time outside of the school.
You can fight loneliness and make a difference
Feelings of loneliness can be hard to overcome. But it is important to remember that our individual actions can make a difference to how we or someone else is feeling.
A good starting point for fighting loneliness can be found in inspiration from others who have experienced loneliness. We include advice on how to ban loneliness from your life - or how to enjoy being on your own:
1. Find an event or take a class
Despite the many shortcomings of social media, Facebook can be a great source of events. Whether online or local, you can browse the list of events. Even with current restrictions in place, you can find a safe and interesting way to spend an afternoon and meet like-minded people.
Part of Denmark's DNA is about giving back. Volunteering can be a great way to achieve a sense of community, to make new friends, and most importantly - to make a difference for others at the same time as improving your own wellbeing. In a 2020 study published by the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers found that people who had helped others through volunteering were more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better than those who did not. So if you're able to do so, tap into the volunteering options in your town! Your library or your citizens' centre can be a good starting point. At the end of the day, you might make new meaningful connections and contribute to helping someone else feel less lonely. Find volunteering opportunities by visiting: https://frivilligjob.dk/
3. Strike up random conversations
All friends have, at some point, started out as new acquaintances. The process of striking up a random conversation with a stranger may be daunting, especially if you are on the shy side. But some places, such as public transportation on long trips or cafes, are the perfect opportunity for making human connections.
4. Have a dance party at home
Attending a party may be complicated for many reasons: restrictions, health, lack of social network, or practical barriers. But music and dancing (whether standing or sitting) are bound to raise most people's spirits.
5. Adopt a pet
Who says only humans make for good company? Sometimes the reassuring company of a furry friend can be all you need. If your circumstances and condition allow, consider adopting a pet. Research shows that having a pet decreases feelings of loneliness and depression. For example, a survey carried out by The Human Animal Bond Research Institute found that 85% of respondents agreed that having a pet can help reduce loneliness.
Lastly, if you are struggling with loneliness - remember that you are not alone.
Resources for groups that offer activities and social communities: