I have just finished reading Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, an exploration of depression, loneliness and childhood trauma all wrapped up in an enigmatic character who the reader wills to realise her potential.
But rather than inspiring a book review (I’m sure the book has many well-deserved plaudits already) it made me think about how many ‘Eleanor Oliphants’ there are in the World today – not necessarily the trauma and abuse but just people who go through life unnoticed and go days on end when they have no human contact. Eleanor follows the same routines day-after-day, week-after-week and is completely unaware that she is suffering from depression believing that drowning her sorrows in vodka is just an every day part of life.
How many Eleanor Oliphants do you know? Would you even know if you did or are you completely unaware of the people you encounter on a daily basis who may be battling demons you know nothing about? People who walk past you in the office corridors Monday to Friday and then return to their homes at 5pm and see and speak to nobody until they re-enter their work place again on a Monday morning. What do we ever really know of the people we work with? Of our neighbours?
A study by The Co-op and the British Red Cross recently revealed that over 9 million people in the UK (across all adult ages) are either always or often lonely and it is widely recognised that loneliness leads to serious health concerns such as depression, heart disease and dementia (Cacioppo et al, 2006) (James et al, 2011) (Valtorta et al, 2016). Further studies by Holt-Lunstad cited that “Loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day” (2010) and that “Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 29%”.
So say hello, check-in on your friends, ask your colleagues what their plans for the weekend are. Be kind because that little act of kindness might just be the difference between hope and despair. Oh, and go read the book!