Society must address solitude
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Society must address solitude

‘Solitude is an extraordinary complex issue’. Photo: Shutterstock

‘Solitude is an extraordinary complex issue’. Photo: Shutterstock

The tragic death of septuagenarian Ronnie Stafrace, of Żabbar, in February 2016 shocked the entire country.

The 71-year-old lived on his own and the police only discovered his body, apparently mauled by his hungry dog, after being alerted by neighbours who had not seen him for several days.

This story opens a documentary on solitude that will be aired on local media stations and other platforms in the coming weeks.

Titled “Il-ġerħa tas-solitudni: il-mixja lejn soluzzjoni” (The scourge of solitude: the walk towards a solution), it is produced by the Faculty for Social Wellbeing in collaboration with Caritas Malta and follows a conference on the subject organised by both entities last month.

“Solitude is an extraordinary complex issue,” Andrew Azzopardi, dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, said yesterday.

“We have to look at it straight in the eyes to address it.”

The 26-minute feature, narrated by journalist Keith Demicoli, explores causes, consequences and possible solutions to this phenomenon with experts and people who suffered from solitude first-hand.

Solitude is a common problem among adolescents and teenagers

Among the causes listed are moving house, the death of loved ones, separations, hectic, modern lifestyles that are leading to less interpersonal relationships and lack of public spaces where the community can interact.

The documentary highlights how long-term solitude can lead to damaging health consequences, including dementia and depression, and raises awareness on the importance of seeking professional help and forming part of support groups. Yet, it is noted that many are still shy to speak out because of stigma associated with these conditions.

Among the personal accounts featured is that of Nationalist MP Mario Galea who suffered from depression. He says that many do not understand the seriousness of the problem and that social exclusion can eventually lead to suicide.

The documentary refers to studies showing that solitude is a common problem among adolescents and teenagers.

A young woman, Diandra Cuschieri, recounts how bullying led her to solitude and depression when she was still about 13 years old and how her guidance teacher, among others, helped her and her family during those difficult times.

The experts argue that not enough is being done to address solitude at a socio-political level.

They present a number of solutions such as teaching children to build good relationships so they would be less susceptible to solitude in future and reaching out to isolated and lonely individuals.

Other more tangible solutions mentioned in the video are the setting up of a ‘good neighbour scheme’ and a ‘befriending service’, where social workers or other volunteers visit a person in their community or give them a call at least once a week.

The ultimate message of the documentary is, in fact, that society should become more understanding and that solitude does not only concern the individual but the whole community. Everyone can do his/her tiny part to help alleviate the problem.

It was announced during the launch of the video that the faculty is working on a quantitative and qualitative research project, which would help draft a national strategy to counter the problem.

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