The Social Bubble Blog
Years ago, I sat as a hospice volunteer with my partner, a rabbi, and an elderly Romanian man. The man didn’t speak English and no one there at the facility spoke Romanian.
Yet, when we sat down with him he did not hold back his words. He began to mumble and his mumbles escalated to sobs. I can remember it almost perfectly. The rabbi clasped his hands and spoke to him in a kind, soothing, and sympethetic voice. The man continued to sob, still speaking only Romanian. While I could not understand what the man said, and can only guess what he was thinking, I learned that day of the great depths of suffering brought by loneliness and isolation.
At least in part due to that experience, I’ve focused my research over the last four years on the social production of poor health arising from syndemic interactions. Specifically, I’ve responded to community needs as they’ve arisen — leading me to research exciting topics such as substance use, mental health, sexual behaviour, and the social conditions arising from stigma, discrimination, and oppression. During my PhD, I focused on patterns of online and offline social connectedness among gay and bisexual men and how these patterns of social connection shaped sexual and substance use related behaviour. Communities at the time were concerned about the impact of new-fangled apps and websites. The primary finding of this work was that socially marginalized gbMSM exhibited significantly greater risk-taking, but also sought to manage these risks by employing adaptive community-based mitigation strategies that helped them to maximize pleasure while minimizing potential harms. The results from this research got me interested in studying crystal methamphetamine — which was the focus of my postdoctoral research. Communities were alarmed by the opioid overdose crisis and of an increasingly visible phenomenon in the queer community referred to by academics as “chemsex” and by commuity members as “party ‘n’ play.”
Why should we study loneliness?
The potential consequences of a lonelier more isolated public are not trivial. A growing chorus of scholars have expressed concern that social connection is not being seriously considered as a key social determinant of health. With these expressions of concern, researchers have amassed evidence showing the far-reaching and intense impact that loneliness can have on health. For some, loneliness and isolation can be as devastating as a chronic or infectious disease.