IN TIMES OF INCREASED LONELINESS, WE NEED OUR AUTHORS AND POETS
By Steve Cooke
It is imperative that we support our authors and poets - many of whom are under direct or indirect threat from extremist states, groups, and individuals - a recent example being the assault on Salman Rushdie. There also is an increasingly widespread suppression of writers across the globe- from Russia to USA, China to Iran.
As Turkish-British novelist Elif Shafak recently said in the New Statesman.
‘We must show solidarity with all authors and poets who might be facing threats today, and we need to support literary festivals and cultural spaces as we celebrate pluralism, diversity, inclusion, equality, and the ancient art of storytelling.’
The ancient art of storytelling can play a vital role in our emotional and mental wellbeing – especially in these times of increased loneliness.
Loneliness being now recognised as a major public health problem – a minister for loneliness was appointed in 2018 by the UK Government!
According to UK Government figures at least 3 million people, or around 6% of the adult population in England aged over 16, say they feel isolated ‘often or always'. Those aged between 16-24 are especially vulnerable.
Quoting the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Policy paper Loneliness Annual Report January 2021.
‘Emerging research findings suggest that those most at risk of loneliness now are similar to those most at risk before the outbreak of COVID-19. Findings from a range of sources show this includes young adults aged 16-24; those with a disability or long-term illness; those with long-term health conditions; and those from lower income households. However, some other groups are more at risk than before, including students who were highlighted as being one of the groups more at risk of loneliness in research led by Dr Daisy Fancourt.
A survey from the Office for National Statistics showed a connection between loneliness and those experiencing high levels of anxiety. [Available on the ONS website https://www.ons.gov.uk]
Loneliness also is associated with a 26% increase in the risk of premature mortality, and can damage our cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems.
In addition, feeling lonely is a known risk factor for several mental disorders, including schizophrenia and major depression. It also makes us more fearful and anxious.
Bad news for both our, closely linked, physical and mental health.
An answer to the problem could be the healing power of literature and poetry to make us feel more connected to others:
Reading and listening to readings can let us connect with other people who have had similar experiences.
Having a book or a reader by our side, in a bag or on a bedside table, can feel like being accompanied by a friend, having a literary arm around our shoulders.
Literature and poetry can offer companionship at such times as that 3am feeling of isolation.
For many the Pandemic exacerbated feelings of not belonging as did the lack of access to mental health resources.
More happily it was encouraging to see not only the survival of, local to my home, writing groups such as Touchstones Creative Writing Group but also the emergence of new groups such as Falinge Writing Group - a trend that is reflected across the country.
FALINGE WRITING GROUP
Thinking that this stuff works is not new – the ancient Greeks believed in the links between poetry and healing – Apollo was the god of poetry and medicine.
There is plenty of more recent research about the health benefits of reading, writing, and listening. For example, the American psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal, known for his work on seasonal affective disorder, believes that poems help his patients and frequently prescribes them.
With social prescribing on the rise this could be the time to spread the word and support our writers and poets.