Loneliness: Botswana’s Silent Killer


Botswana is a country renowned for its stunning landscapes and rich wildlife. However, behind this natural beauty, a profound issue plagues the nation—loneliness. Botswana faces several challenges that contribute to its loneliness epidemic, including high suicide rates, soaring divorce rates, a significant HIV prevalence, and rampant unemployment.
Moreover, the country’s low ranking on the world happiness index and the potential influence of social media exacerbates the feelings of isolation among its population. In this feature item, we delve into the intricate web of factors that make loneliness a silent
killer in Botswana and explore potential avenues for change.

High suicide rates
Botswana has the world’s sixth highest suicide rate at 16.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest is South Africa with 23.5 per 100,000. Unquestionably, high suicide rates are indicative of many social issues including a deepseated loneliness prevalent within the
society. The reasons behind these tragic acts are multifaceted, including personal struggles, mental health issues, and a lack of social support systems. Feelings of isolation and hopelessness often drive individuals to take such drastic measures. Divorce rates in Botswana have reached alarming levels, further highlighting the prevalence of loneliness within the population. Almost half of first-time marriages fail, mostly in the first eight years. The breakdown of marriages not only disrupts the social fabric but also contributes to feelings of isolation and abandonment. The reasons for the high divorce rates are
complex, encompassing factors such as financial strain, cultural shifts, and a lack of effective communication.

HIV infection
Botswana has the third highest rates of HIV infection globally at 18.6 percent, the highest being Eswatini with 27.9 percent of the total population. It means that one in four of the adult population carries the human immunodeficiency virus. The impact of this epidemic extends beyond physical health concerns, as it also leads to social ostracization and profound loneliness for those affected. Fear, stigma, and discrimination surrounding HIV create an environment where individuals living with the virus are isolated from their
communities and support networks.

High levels of unemployment contribute significantly to the loneliness crisis in Botswana. The lack of meaningful employment opportunities leads to a sense of purposelessness, financial strain, and a loss of social connections.

This situation is especially prevalent among the youth, who face limited prospects and heightened vulnerability. In 2020 42 percent of youths aged 15 to 35 years were without employment of any kind. Botswana’s ranking as the 138th happiest country out of 156 countries sheds light on the deep rooted loneliness pervasive within the nation. Readers may check out the analysis by following this link https://wisevoter.com/country-rankings/happiest-countries-in-the-world/#map .Happiness and loneliness are inversely related, with loneliness eroding overall well-being and contentment. Factors contributing to Botswana’s low ranking include the aforementioned challenges—suicide rates, divorce rates, HIV prevalence, and unemployment.

Excessive use of social media Furthermore, in the modern era, the rise of social media platforms has transformed how people connect and interact. However, there is growing concern that excessive use of social media exacerbates feelings of loneliness and social isolation. In Botswana, where digital connectivity has seen significant growth in recent years, this issue is particularly relevant. While social media platforms provide avenues for virtual connections, they can also contribute to a superficial sense of social interaction,
leading to a disconnect from genuine face-to-face relationships.

Scope and impact of loneliness For Government to tackle the problem it needs objective analysis that academia has the capacity to provide if it is engaged. Loneliness, although
primarily a subjective experience, can indeed be studied and measured scientifically. Researchers have developed various methods and tools to assess and quantify loneliness levels in individuals. These scientific approaches provide valuable insights into understanding the scope and impact of loneliness on both an individual and societal level. One commonly used instrument to measure loneliness is the UCLA Loneliness Scale. This scale consists of a series of statements that individuals rate based on their personal experiences, such as “I feel isolated from others” or “I lack companionship.” The responses are then analysed to determine the degree of loneliness an individual is experiencing. The scale provides a quantitative measure of loneliness and allows for comparisons between individuals or groups. In addition to selfreport scales, researchers also employ objective measures to study loneliness. For instance, social network analysis examines an individual’s social connections, network size, and frequency of interactions. By assessing the quantity and quality of a person’s social relationships, researchers can identify
patterns that may contribute to feelings of loneliness. Neuroscientific techniques have also shed light on the neural correlates of loneliness. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have shown that loneliness is associated with altered brain activity
in regions involved in social cognition and emotional processing. These findings provide objective evidence of the impact of loneliness on the brain and further support the  scientific study of loneliness. Furthermore, advancements in technology have enabled the use of wearable devices and smartphone applications to gather data on social interactions and isolation. These tools can track the duration and frequency of face-to-face interactions, phone calls, text messages, and social media use, providing quantitative data on an individual’s social engagement and potential loneliness.

Measuring loneliness
Policy makers need to appreciate that loneliness can be scientifically measured and studied through selfreport scales, social network analysis, neuroimaging techniques, and the use of wearable devices and smartphone applications. These scientific methods provide objective data that complement individuals’ subjective experiences of loneliness, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon and informing efforts to combat its detrimental effects.

Tackling loneliness
Tackling the loneliness epidemic in Botswana requires a multifaceted approach that involves various stakeholders, including the government, civil society organizations, and communities. Here are some potential avenues for change. The government should prioritize mental health initiatives, including increasing access to counselling services, establishing helplines, and implementing awareness campaigns to reduce stigma surrounding mental health issues. Investing in community-based programs and initiatives that foster social connections can help combat loneliness.

These could include sports clubs, hobby groups, community centres, and volunteering opportunities that bring people together. Comprehensive education campaigns should be
implemented to address HIV stigma and discrimination, promoting empathy, understanding, and acceptance of individuals living with the virus.

This can help reduce social isolation and foster inclusivity. Creating sustainable job opportunities, providing skills training, and supporting entrepreneurship can alleviate unemployment and provide individuals with a sense of purpose and belonging. The
government should invest in marriage counselling programs and family support services to help couples navigate challenges, strengthen relationships, and reduce divorce rates. Promoting Digital Well-being: Encouraging responsible use of social media, promoting digital literacy, and creating awareness about the potential negative effects of excessive screen time can help individuals maintain a healthy balance between online and offline interactions.

Silent killer
Loneliness remains a silent killer in Botswana evidenced by high suicide rates and perpetuated by soaring divorce rates, the HIV epidemic, rampant unemployment, and graphically illustrated by the country’s low ranking on the world happiness index.
The influence of social media further exacerbates feelings of isolation and detachment. Addressing this pressing issue requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on mental health support, social integration, education, economic empowerment, and responsible digital consumption. By prioritizing these areas and fostering a sense of community and belonging, Botswana can take significant strides toward reducing loneliness and improving the overall well-being of its population.

The future of Botswana depends entirely upon the health – both physical and mental – of the population. Policy makers must put more resources into ensuring that the population is fit to take on the nation’s future development challenges. A lonely population living in a dystopian society will never flourish.