by JOAN WOOLLCOMBE, OBE
THE most unexpected people, as well as the obvious ones, feel—and fear the danger of isolation and solitude. "I am sure the greatest problem of our time is loneliness. It is in most cases the unspoken malady of the present . . ." So writes Father Malachy Lynch, the Carmelite of Aylesford.
The effect of a feeling of isolation and depression is wholly bad. On one hand there are such cases as the woman in her forties whose children have left home, the girl in her first job away from home and lonely in her bed-sitter, the man or woman living alone whom life seems to have passed by; on the other hand, there are cases such as the desperate isolation of the psychiatric patient discharged to "normal" life, alone; or the panic of the girl on her own who finds herself pregnant; or the addicts of drink, drugs and other evils, terrified and seemingly helpless. All these. and many more, are problems living amongst us.
What is there to help them? Take my friend Mrs. C., successful wife and mother, aged 46, whose children have grown up and left home. Her home almost runs itself. She has time on her hands and finds herself getting nervy and depressed. "I've got anything up to and over 20 years ahead. I must get something to interest me and keep me interested, for Jim's sake , . ."
She found it all in the famous Mary Ward Centre in Tavistock Place, WC1, where she surprised herself by showing talent and skill in music and she easily fitted into the lively company of people of all ages and types taking courses in every sort of thing from guitar playing to art and languages.
Their Common Room is famous as a centre of sheer friendliness and criss-crossing of interests and arguments. There she met Miss X, who 20 years ago lost her parents, a woman friend and the man she was going to marry. She was quite alone; she had no one "to go home to." She had joined the Mary Ward, tackled French, the art of writing and
musical appreciation — and has never wanted for friends since then.
Then again, in her first job away from home, there is the case of the girl who wants to be free to live her own life. Instead she finds herself in a dreary bed-sitter. One of the modern residential clubs, with all amenities and freedom to entertain her friends, could alter all that. But it is she who must take the initiative.
The (very modern) YWCA, whose accommodation and Advisory Bureau is at 16 Great Russell Street, deals with a steady stream of girls and women desperate to find
somewhere to live. The 'Y' has admirable residential clubs everywhere.
The loneliness, furthermore, of one particular girl, who, after a row with her parents, hitch-hiked to London and then, jobless and homeless, found herself pregnant, took
her, in despair, to this Advisory Centre. She told it all in confidence and got help and comfort.
In this crowded island can there really be so many who are "at risk" through loneliness? "Just someone to come home to" might help. "She might not have taken her life if there had been someone to listen to her troubles . . ." said a Coroner at an inquest on a girl of 18.
The Samaritans, started by an Anglican, The Rev. Chad Varah, have a network of telephones manned all over Britain to befriend the despairing and the suicidal. In 1969 some 50,000 people made these calls.
Then there are those lonely people, men and women who have needed or fear they need psychiatric treatment. Many of them leave psychiatric hospitals to return to a solitary life again. The Richmond Fellowship has established a number of half-way-houses, started by Elly Jansen, to
which former patients. alcoholics and drug addicts can be given a bridge to normal family life again. "Rehabilitation" is the grand word for Christian kindness and commonsense.
They have the support of the heads of various communions in Britain, including Cardinal Heenan. The Richmond Fellowship's headquarters are at 4 Addison Road, W14, and from the original Richmond House they have opened many others.
Not to be forgotten is the isolation of the addicts and their families, when such things as drink, drugs, gambling can not remain hidden. These each have their helping hand societies: Alcoholics Anonymous (P.O. Box 514, 11 Redcliffe Gardens, SW10); Neurotics Anonymous (at 54 Carlton Hill, NW8); and Gamblers Anonymous (19 Abbey House, Victoria Street, SW1).
You can even buy companionship — quite respectably, too — by consulting a Marriage Bureau. They are extremely strict in their respectability ! There are, in fact, clubs for companionship of all kinds and numerous societies for making friends and arranging shared holidays.
It is the initial effort to break through the chains of loneliness that counts. Scores of voluntary organisations, moreover, welcome offers of help. and this, in itself, is often an ideal way of making friends.