In our globalized world reigned by technology, we have managed to interconnect like never before. Thanks to this, it has become everyday to find out even what is happening on the other side of the planet. However, it almost seems that we feel more alone now. This situation has created the need for a Ministry of Solitude and, so that you know it better, here we will tell you exactly what it is and why we seem to need it.
Despite the hyperconnectivity that we enjoy today, people have started to report that they feel more and more alone. Now, situations such as the mandatory isolation of the pandemic have made us open our eyes and see this problem in more detail. But, this is not a new situation, in fact, it has been brewing for decades.
Now, along with this feeling of loneliness, come other problems such as the increase in mental conditions related to depression, anxiety and the like. It also creates social problems with vulnerable populations who simply have no one to turn to when they need help.
Taking this into account, it is clear that, in order to understand what a Ministry of Solitude really is and what it does, it is imperative to understand the depth of the impact that this condition can have on societies.
Loneliness: one of the worst pandemics of modernity
The problems related to loneliness did not begin to manifest themselves since the beginning of the pandemic. In reality, these have been there for years and, little by little, they have become more serious because of the little attention we have paid to the situation.
Cases such as the need for a Ministry of Solitude highlight the great impact that this has had on our society. One that, it should be noted, does not only affect the realm of the mental. In fact, people’s physical health is also put at risk because of it.
As an example of this, we can mention a study referred to by the BBC that was carried out during 2017. In this, it was found that sustained feelings of loneliness could be as harmful to the body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Now, it is undeniable that the pandemic situation has made us take a more detailed look at these problems, since with its arrival it exacerbated them. Hence, associated psychiatric disorders in society have become more abundant during 2020 and the World Health Organization itself has already expressed concern about the psychological effects that the pandemic will leave behind.
What exactly is the Ministry of Solitude?
Taking into account all the complications and effects that loneliness can have in the world, it is not surprising that then we must design specific mechanisms to study, understand and face it. Hence, some governments have made the decision to create a figure specifically dedicated to this task.
To understand what is the Ministry of Solitude in countries like England or Japan, we only have to see the situations of this pair of societies. In both cases, despite being prosperous and developed countries, they face complex internal situations such as the increase in older people who are alone and without support networks.
Likewise, adolescents and young adults, hidden behind technology, are increasingly isolating themselves from the world. A fact that in Japan is already a cultural phenomenon known as hikikomori.
With this in mind, a Ministry of Loneliness should first act as an official space capable of collecting, measuring and quantifying the levels of loneliness in its country. Since only with that knowledge will it be possible to take actions accordingly.
In addition to this, a ministry like this must also attend especially to the most at-risk individuals – the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill or the socially marginalized, among others – in order to offer help at the right time.
Loneliness ministries are already a reality
Now that we are clear about what the Ministry of Solitude is and what is expected of it in theory, we can move on to see what it has done in practice. At this time, some nations such as England, Japan, Australia, Spain, Germany and Canada have considered the possibility of establishing it. However, almost none have taken concrete steps to make it a reality.
The trio of nations that would be closest to this idea would be Germany, France, and Canada. The first has proposed, since 2019, the creation of an Official Commissioner for Solitude. The second account in its territory with the “Monalisa Project”, also since 2019.
Finally, the third addresses the problem of loneliness through its Minister for the Elderly, Filomena Tassi. But, so far, only two countries have actually made the Ministry of Solitude official as part of their governance structure.
The first to venture into this area was the United Kingdom, whose rates of loneliness in old age led it to create this ministry in 2018. Following in its footsteps, this 2021 Japan has also seen the need to create its own. All due to the sum of the crisis caused by the pandemic together with the internal problems related to loneliness and suicide that have plagued the country for years.
A closer look: the case of the United Kingdom, a pioneer in the area
In order to understand the work of these institutions, we can also see it from its practical origin. In 2018, the then British Prime Minister, Theresa May, formalized the creation of the Ministry of Solitude in the United Kingdom.
This action followed the “Commission of Solitude” that had created the Labor parliamentarian Jo Cox, who was assassinated in 2017. At the time, the commission was a response to the more than 9 million Breton inhabitants who were facing to loneliness in the country.
As time went by, this figure did not improve and, therefore, it was necessary to take the commission to a new level and transform it into a ministry. Here, the Secretary of Sport and Civil Society, Tracey Crouch, was appointed to carry the title of “Minister of Solitude.”
Since its creation, the ministry has tried different alternatives to help its population. But overall, she has focused on harnessing the good side of technology to connect with at-risk individuals – ranging from older adults to members of the LGBTQ + community who feel isolated.
Japan case: a new Ministry of Solitude joins the list
This 2021, Japan had to give the news that it would also require a Ministry of Solitude, to deal with the internal crisis in its country. In 2020 alone, 20,919 suicides were registered among its population.
According to the Japanese authorities, this is the first large increase in this count in 11 years and has been due to the isolation of the pandemic. However, this is far from being the whole story, in clear numbers, the increase was 750 people. With this in mind, we can see then that in 2019 more than 20 thousand other people took their lives in Japan.
In terms of percentages, in general they all increased. Female suicide grew by 15%, while that of school-age children or adolescents increased by 30%. Only that of adult men decreased slightly, but not enough to decrease the upward trend of the count.
This reveals a serious mental health problem in Japanese society that has been increasing over the years. Now, the pandemic situation seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back and that has led the government to take stronger action.
Now, Tetsushi Sakamoto, appointed by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga himself, has been placed in front of the position of “Minister of Solitude”. His main task will be to address this upward trend in the country’s suicide rate. But, it should also turn its attention to other issues such as reversing the fall in the birth rate and giving more life to regional economies.
Why do countries need a Ministry of Solitude?
As we can see, at present, if we really want to take care of the health of the world’s population, it is necessary that we have institutions such as the Ministry of Solitude. Although her concept may be difficult to grasp at first, if they do their job well, their existence could finally help liberate humanity from the pandemic that has plagued her for years without her noticing: loneliness.
As we see in the list of nations that already have a ministry of this type, or that are on the way to it, the majority could be classified as developed countries. From there we can also see then that this pandemic does not have to do with the external elements of the country, but with how healthy the psyche of the society that inhabits it is.
At times like this, when the outbreak has forced us to separate, technology has helped us stay together despite everything. However, before this situation occurred, it has often been used as an alienating element that leaves people without support networks – which are vital in times of crisis like these.
It is clear that the delicate situation in which we find ourselves now was not built overnight. In fact, the problems of depression and suicide that have been exacerbated in the pandemic were already there before. However, now that they have grown stronger, we need more intense efforts to stop them.
Clearly, we are already at a point where we must start looking for solutions to the situation that we failed to prevent. This is where a well-run Ministry of Solitude could make a difference.
Now, we must ask ourselves that, in a different reality, perhaps we could have prevented the birth of these ministries if we had given the value it deserved to the care of the mental health of our societies.