chapter  1
10 Pages

The issue of social isolation

ByROELOF HORTULANUS, ANJA MACHIELSE

Often we hear news reports that a person has been found dead at home. The longer the death remained unnoticed, the more attention such a report gets. The typical questions that journalists pose to neighbours are: ‘Did you know the deceased? Did you not notice that he had not gone outside for quite a while?’ This type of news leaves us feeling uncomfortable. It raises questions about one’s street and neighbourhood: could something like that happen here too? In the summer of 2003, France was shocked by the number of people who had passed away alone during a heatwave that lasted several days. The informal network of family, friends, acquaintances and neighbours was apparently insufficient or entirely absent, and the professional system was incapable of reacting adequately. There are other harrowing examples of social isolation in our modern society. We regularly read about single men and women who neglect themselves and their dwelling. In recent decades, the street scene in large cities has witnessed the increase of homeless people: the man who looks for food leftovers in garbage containers, the woman who rambles the streets mumbling to herself. The sight of such people leads us to wonder how things got so far, and whether no one looks after these people anymore.