Many young Norwegians are lonely

A new study suggests that nearly 40 percent of Norwegians between the ages of 18 and 29 feel lonely, either “often” or “quite often.” In an affluent era of so-called “Facebook friends” and intense use of social media, it appears that actual human contact is lacking.

The study, reported by newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday, was conducted this spring by research firm IPSOS /MMI for the Norwegian Red Cross. Its findings indicate that twice as many young persons are lonely than those in the oldest age groups, even though the problem of loneliness among the elderly generally has received more public attention.

Unrealistic ideals
“Many (young people) strive to have an ideal life that’s difficult to achieve,” Professor Svenn Torgersen of the psychology institute at the University of Oslo told Aftenposten. He’s not surprised by the survey’s results, which showed that in addition to the 37 percent who say they “often” or “quite often” feel lonely, another 32 percent said they felt “ashamed” over being lonesome.

One young woman who blogs anonymously about the loneliness issue in Oslo told Aftenposten that she feels responsible for her own loneliness, because she stopped answering messages from friends that came in over her mobile phone. Others may feel overwhelmed by e-mail, Facebook or other social media and simply drop out, only to end up feeling ignored.

Around 10 percent of all persons questioned in the survey said they often feel alienated by social media, while a total of 22 percent, in all age groups, said they often were plagued by loneliness. Fully 73 percent, however, said they have social contact with a “real” friend at least one a week.

Loneliness behind psychological problems
Åsne Havnelid, who took over as secretary general of the Norwegian Red Cross after leading Oslo’s hosting of last year’s Nordic skiing world championships, noted that increasing numbers of young Norwegians are suffering psychological problems, and that loneliness can be a factor in them. While a study from 2007 carried out by state statistics bureau SSB and research institute NOVA found that loneliness is most widespread among the elderly, the Red Cross study tells another story.

While 24 percent of the oldest respondents said they feared feeling lonely in the future, fully 41 percent of those aged 18 to 29 felt the same.

“Even though we as a society are growing steadily richer in material goods, there are still many who steadily feel held back and alone,” Havnelid told Aftenposten.

No reason for shame
Local chapters of the Red Cross have actively organized volunteers to simply visit elderly persons living alone, and now are likely to address problems of loneliness within younger groups. While a majority of elderly think their loneliness is a result of busier days for younger Norwegians, many young Norwegians blame uncertainty and psychological problems that result in social isolation.

The Red Cross study follows another recent report in Aftenposten showing that roughly 40 percent of Oslo’s households are made up of single persons, with politicians (many of them single themselves) calling for more consideration in public policies for single persons. Torgersen stressed that loneliness should be accepted as a natural part of life, and not a reason for shame.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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