Editor’s Note: March/April 2024

The Loneliness Epidemic

Magazine Issue
March/April 2024
Livia Kent 2023

I won’t even cite the research—of which there’s a boatload—because most of us know it firsthand: friendship is necessary for our growth and well-being, physically and mentally. Whether friends are helping us navigate life’s inevitable rapids by sharing in our laughter or witnessing our tears, they—sometimes even more than family members or romantic partners—have the power to lift us up, move us from tragedy to opportunity, and make life worth living.

The flip side, of course, is that not having friends causes profound emotional pain. As therapist Lynn Lyons writes in this issue, “Nothing hurts my heart more than hearing a child or teen or parent express deep, gaping loneliness.” Personally, when I think of all the calamities that could befall my son as he grows out of toddlerhood—all the possible hardships and sorrows—my greatest fear is that he’ll be lonely.

I’m not talking about the kind of loneliness that results from being left out on the playground occasionally—I know that’s inevitable and maybe even salutary in building emotional resilience—but the chronic, self-reinforcing kind, which can tip into depression and undercut healthy development. I worry that he’ll somehow, someday, through no fault of his own, struggle to make friends, or keep friends, and find himself trapped in what might be deemed a form of social solitary confinement—a state that, despite my best efforts as a parent to help him break free of it, would feel antithetical to being alive.

Increasingly, this kind of loneliness is a critical problem for people today. I don’t need to prove this to anyone: the “loneliness epidemic” has become a buzzword in the popular press. So rather than talk about it, this issue aims to explore what we can do about it, on the ground, inch by inch, in our therapy offices—not just for kids and young adults, but for people at any stage of life. We consider the influences of culture, race, and gender on the nature and course of peer connections. And in two very personal pieces, we flip the lens to look at the complexities of friendship in a therapist’s own practice and psyche.

I’m finding that the more I reflect on the stories presented here, the more I appreciate the intricacy and paradox inherent in friendship. It can be a sturdy bond, but also a delicate one. It’s an essential connection, yet an entirely elective one. How can we balance these elements in ways that foster sustaining relationships, for our clients and for ourselves? We don’t purport to answer the question. Instead, we hope to provide a place to ponder what friendship really means in today’s world—together.

Livia Kent

Livia Kent, MFA, is the editor in chief of Psychotherapy Networker. She worked for 10 years with Rich Simon as managing editor of Psychotherapy Networker, and taught writing at American University as well as for various programs around the country. As a bibliotherapist, she’s facilitated therapy groups in Washington, DC-area schools and in the DC prison system. In 2020, she was named one of Folio Magazine’s Top Women in Media “Change-Makers.” She’s the recipient of Roux Magazine‘s Editor’s Choice Award, The Ledge Magazine‘s National Fiction Award, and American University’s Myra Sklarew Award for Original Novel.