All The Lonely People: Karen Dolva at TEDxArendal (Full Transcript)

Full text of Norwegian designer Karen Dolva’s talk titled “All the lonely people” at TEDxArendal conference.

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Karen Dolva – CEO and co-founder of No Isolation

If I had died at 22, it would have taken weeks before anyone would have noticed because at 22, I was studying, I lived on my own, and I’d pulled myself away from everyone without anyone really noticing.

The next minutes will not be about me; it will, however, be about the work that I’m trying to do. Because two years ago, I decided to put an end to loneliness. The loneliness that I and my co-founders had experienced in our own lives was enough for us to quit our jobs and start a company called No Isolation.

We had no idea of what we were getting into and how big the issue really was. And I don’t think that you do either. Loneliness is not just a sad feeling that we need to get rid of because we want people to be slightly more happy.

Loneliness is dangerous. People suffering from loneliness are in a constant fight-or-flight mode, a stress mode very much equal to the one I’m experiencing right now, only there’s a huge difference between me experiencing this for a couple of minutes now and living with it for years. These increased stress levels lead to a number of things, but there are some consequences that are more severe than others.

Several studies have shown that feeling lonely results in a 29% increased risk of heart disease. Feeling lonely also increases the risk of having a stroke by 32%. You might not believe it, but when it comes to heart disease, loneliness is a bigger killer than obesity. So, if we could do our own mini experiment: all of you can raise your hand, and please keep it there until told otherwise.

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So think about the feeling of being all alone, how it is like to not have anyone you feel you can talk to or reach out to in a moment. Now everyone who has never had that feeling can take their hands down.

Good. So all of us – it’s okay. So all of us have experienced loneliness.

But 16% of the Norwegian population reports that they’re being haunted by loneliness every day. And that’s in Norway. According to the United Nations, we’re the happiest country in the world! And still, 16% is 800,000 people in this tiny country alone, that feels like they have no one to talk to on a day-to-day basis.

And when you consider how big of a taboo loneliness actually is, it gets worse because people do not willingly admit to being lonely, meaning that 16% is probably too low.

The relationship between age and loneliness is shaped like a U. The youngest and the oldest generations are the most lonely generations.

And while most research is focused on the seniors, the amount of lonely young people is severely underestimated. It should be no surprise to anyone here that lonely children, teenagers and young adults perform worse at school, are more depressed and experience more suicidal thoughts than their socially connected peers.

And then there are children suffering from long-term illness and with long-term illness, I mean ME and CP and cancer and heart failure, all of these diagnoses and they’re particularly exposed to being socially isolated and lonely. They lose their place in society with their diagnosis. It’s not always easy to find their way back.

I didn’t realize how important this issue was until I met a woman named Anna. 14 years before I met her, one of her twin daughters was diagnosed with a form of cancer. And Cornelia lost her life after having spent two years moving in and out of various hospitals.

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