The background is that loneliness is generally bad for mental health BUT, if people also have a sense of authenticity, loneliness doesn’t have the usual adverse mental health effects.
This kind of interactional effect is quite common in mental health. For example, loss and change make people more vulnerable to depression, BUT that is less likely to happen if people have a confidant and feel well supported.
A concern for ‘authenticity’ has been one of the great features of the last 100 years. The essence of authenticity is to know yourself and be true to yourself. It is one of the great virtues of our time.
Almost anything is acceptable now if you are being ‘authentic’. Equally, not to be being authentic is (you might say) the great ‘sin’ of our time (not that people use that word much). We have perhaps become over concerned with authenticity.
There is little evidence of people being concerned about authenticity before the twentieth century. Lionel Trilling set out some of the history in his beautiful little book Sincerity and Authenticity.
‘Sincere’, for example, used to refer to things, not people. In the 18th century a ‘sincere’ wine was a wine that was what it was labelled as being. Its present more psychological usage came later.
But how and why is authenticity good for mental health? It seems that it may have a particular role in off-setting the effects of loneliness, rather than being generally good for mental health in a stand-alone way.
Loneliness is generally associated with quite poor mental health. But loneliness changes its character if it is linked to a sense of being true to yourself. That gives some kind of point and purpose to being alone, even to being lonely. Focusing on authenticity blunts the negative impact of loneliness by pointing to what good can come out of it.
Like many things, a strong focus on authenticity is a probably a mixed blessing. Though it can blunt the negative effects of loneliness, it can go too far and result in people becoming so wrapped up in themselves that they find it hard to take pleasure in people they meet or in things they do.
This modern focus on authenticity has its uses, in moderation.