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My story occurs in the near future after a nuclear holocaust, the human population is reduced to mere thousands spread out all over the world.

A mysterious disease seems to infect the survivors of the apocalypse, people suddenly turn into ghouls and cannibalize one another.

As time goes by people get suspicious of each other and arm themselves with lethal weapons and improvised traps, my question is will loneliest loneliness inevitably set in as hope withers by the hours and is it fatal?

Basically nearly all forms of communication ceased after the war and outside at ground zero, the thick ashen smog will burn any exposed skin in minutes.

Unless people hid in a well built underground shelter or bunker with adequate supplies of clean water, preserved food and stock piles of oxygen cylinders then they are as good as dead.

But I wondered what if the thing that kills people isn't the aforementioned basic needs but something else completely.

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    $\begingroup$ You have been a member here for 7 years and posted 700+ questions. Would you mind starting to break the wall of text? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Mar 30 at 5:14
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    $\begingroup$ Not an answer, but it's worth mentioning that humanity is absolutely, 100% doomed to extinction. Even if some people do interact it's going to be VERY hard to get the minimum viable population together in the same living quarters, with basic needs covered. You probably knew and planned this, but in case someone was wondering. $\endgroup$
    – Blueriver
    Mar 30 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ Well, make Wilson (from Castaway), and you have all your loneliness needs taken care of. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy L.
    Apr 1 at 14:13

6 Answers 6

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Judgement: Believable

The influence of social relationships on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality.

The above quote, comparing social isolation (aka, loneliness) to conditions such as obesity, smoking, etc., found that social isolation is at least as deadly as those other well-established threats to life. The study was published by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor at Brigham Young University, titled "Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review."

The editor's summary states:

These findings indicate that the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity. Furthermore, the overall effect of social relationships on mortality reported in this meta-analysis might be an underestimate, because many of the studies used simple single-item measures of social isolation rather than a complex measurement. Although further research is needed to determine exactly how social relationships can be used to reduce mortality risk, physicians, health professionals, educators, and the media should now acknowledge that social relationships influence the health outcomes of adults and should take social relationships as seriously as other risk factors that affect mortality, the researchers conclude.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems like a hardcore case of correlation does not equal causation. In modern day, people are not socially isolated unless they already have serious issues (poverty, mental illness, addiction etc.). I don't think this is applicable to a post-apocalyptic world much. $\endgroup$
    – Davor
    Mar 31 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ Extending the point made by @Davor, I believe it is an unfair comparison to equate being lonely in an otherwise social and peaceful world with being solitary and/or living remotely in a survival scenario. Maslow's hierarchy of needs suggests that people will have very different needs and focuses in these two settings, which will impact their everyday focus and in turn what they feel they are reasonably and unfairly missing out on. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Mar 31 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Davor Unless you have a degree in psychology or sociology, your observation is meaningless. Worse, the point here is to help the OP (any OP) to create a believable context for his/her fictional world. No offense, but unless you can show at any time in human history a post-apocalyptic world from which to draw history for the purpose of this question, my answer is a ton better than your guess. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 6 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Flater Ditto what I just told Davor. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 6 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact You are comparing apples to oranges in your answer. One does not need an arbological degree to be able to point this out. The study you refer to is defining loneliness as people in our society who are lonely. This is flawed for two reasons: the loneliness is not necessarily the cause, but could rather be a side effect of things that can lead to death; and the emotional impact of loneliness is influenced by seeing socialization between others around you. Feeling like an outsider requires there to be a social circle to be outside of; which in OP's world there no longer is. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Apr 7 at 8:33
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Loneliness doesn't kill directly.

Alexander Selkirk, just to give an example, managed pretty well on a deserted island.

Alexander Selkirk (1676 – 13 December 1721) was a Scottish privateer and Royal Navy officer who spent four years and four months as a castaway (1704–1709) after being marooned by his captain, initially at his request, on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific Ocean. He survived that ordeal, but succumbed to tropical illness years later while serving aboard HMS Weymouth off West Africa.

Being alone however makes death more likely should anything go wrong, because if one for any reason is not able to get food/water on their own, they are out of luck.

In your scenario, when one has to be alone with a stockpile of food, that doesn't seem the case. However the lack of interaction and other meaningful activities might take a toll on the mental well-being of whoever is enduring that ordeal.

So be sure to include something to kill time and keep the body and the mind busy together with the canned food.

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  • $\begingroup$ With regard to mental toll; I cannot forget Wilson, from Cast Away. $\endgroup$ Mar 31 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ Single anecdotal evidence does not necessarily indicate statistical likelihood. I'm not saying I disagree with what you're trying to say; I'm just pointing out that the question wasn't whether it's impossible for anyone to survive in solitary conditions (o which a single example of someone doing so would be an appropriate counter). Also, in regards to your specific example, Hiroo Onoda takes the cake by far, holding out for 29 years after the war he thought he was still fighting had ended (albeit only completely alone for 2 years). $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Mar 31 at 13:55
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We are social animals. We evolved to depend on each other.

Even if a character in your world is fit and has access to fresh resources, imagine what happens if they have appendicitis, frequent epilepsy attacks or some other life threatening condition. They won't be able to treat themselves and will die a very slow, very painful death.

In the lonely apocalypse, if you get bit by a rabid dog, you will die because even if you find anti-rabies vaccines you won't know how to prepare and use those unless you are a nurse or a doctor. But if you are a nurse or a doctor, you won't know how to handle machinery nor maintain a shelter because you are not an engineer nor from any profession that does those things. If you are someone who can do medicine and engineering, then you still lack the skills to hunt or grow your own food. If you are the McNinja kind of guy who knows medicine, engineering, farming, husbandry, geology, metalurgy etc., then you are either a videogame character or a character in a book where suspension of disbelief is long gone.

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We are social animals and there is no amount of crackpot theory about individualism that can change that. Survival ALONE in a bunker, even with all the food, air, water and books in the world will take its toll on you.

Probably the thing that will make you the most damage is that as you don't need to search for your food you have very little to do day to day, somewhat like in solitary confinement. And when you see the state of people that are in solitary confinement, it is NOT a pleasing thing, as the high number of suicide attempts prove.

It is not impossible to survive indefinitely in that state, but you need to be somebody that naturally enjoy their own company, and have stockpiled enough books, music and movies to last a few lifetimes, hoping that having nothing to look forward other than that is enough to keep you going for 50 odd year.

So yeah, loneliness can very easily lead to your mental health going down the drain and eventually make you end your life. It might not be something that will happen in a day.

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Assuming that your character has no outside reasons to die, like a snake bite. Could he die out of pure psychological/soul reasons? I think it depends on your character. Some theravada buddhists monks (e.g. in Thailand) spent years without interaction, just sitting alone in a cave (but with access to food), without dying. They are training their mind and even like not having interactions.

Also loneliness hits very different when everyone else is having fun and they hate only you and that is excluded from the group. If you're alone, simply because no one else is around or because everyone has gone mad/suspicious about the others, I think your character feels much less lonely.

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  • $\begingroup$ As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Mar 30 at 14:13
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Something missing from other answers, people in this situation would also likely engage in poorly thought-out risk taking behaviors. The loneliness itself doesn't kill but eventually one of those risks comes up on the wrong side and another contestant is out of the game.

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