What is loneliness?

Loneliness is a common problem, with The Campaign to End Loneliness reporting that over 9 million people in the UK say that they are always or often lonely.

Loneliness isn’t a mental health issue in itself, but mental health and loneliness are strongly connected. This is because having a mental health problem increases your chance of feeling lonely, and loneliness can have a negative effect on your mental health.

Loneliness can make people feel worthless, and like there is something wrong with them for not feeling like they have great connections with other people.

Research has found that social isolation, living alone and loneliness are linked with poorer health and earlier deaths, so it’s an important issue to tackle.

CAUSES

Although the majority of people need some form of contact to maintain good mental health, everybody has different needs. Some people have the need to have a large number of friends and social groups, whereas some people get the same satisfaction in having a few close friends. Even if someone looks like they couldn’t possibly feel lonely, they might.

Everyone feels lonely or isolated at some point in their life. It can be for straightforward, logistical reasons, like moving to a new area. Similarly, your existing friends or loved ones might move away, so you are unable to see those you are close to as often as you would like.

Other examples of things that can cause feelings of loneliness are arguments with friends and family, or a breakup.

Unemployment is another cause of loneliness. A majority of jobs involve having contact with colleagues and other people, during the working week. For someone who is employed, the mental health benefits of being employed may not seem that obvious. However, being unemployed can easily make someone feel isolated and can cause their mental health to decline.

Stressful events, such as bereavement or illness of a loved one, or financial pressures, can also be a cause of loneliness. You may feel like you’re the only person going through something and that you have nobody to talk to about a specific worry. However, this is not the case, as there will always be someone out there feeling the same way as you do.

DEALING WITH LONELINESS

Although everyone feels lonely at times, and in many cases, it will come and go with time, you could try some of the following things to help feelings of isolation:

  • Meet new people and make new connections – Although you may feel like you have no idea how to meet new people, there are many ways that you can. This includes taking up new hobbies such as joining a sports club, going to music events, or attending foreign language classes. Volunteering is another great way to meet new people and to also help out with a cause you’re passionate about. Finally, there are online communities that are great ways of meeting new people, if you don’t have the time or ability to meet people in person.
  • Open up to other people – You might feel that you have plenty of connections, but what is actually wrong is that you don’t feel close to them, or they don’t give you the care and attention you need. In this situation, it might help to open up about how you feel to friends and family.
  • Try not to stress and worry about the fact that you feel lonely – Everyone feels lonely at some point in their lives and for most, the feeling will come and go across life. However, if you think your health is suffering as a result of loneliness, you may wish to visit your doctor.

LONELINESS AND AGEING

A vast proportion of elderly people in the UK are lonely or feel isolated. According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.

People can become socially isolated for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Getting older or weaker
  • No longer being central in their family
  • Retirement
  • The deaths of loved ones
  • Disability or illness

There’s a stigma surrounding loneliness, and many older people do not talk about their feelings or ask for help, due to embarrassment or loss of pride. It’s important to remember loneliness affects people of all ages.

The NHS recommends the following ways for older people to deal with loneliness issues:

  • Smile, even if it’s difficult
  • Invite friends for tea
  • Keep in touch by phone
  • Learn to love computers
  • Get involved in local community activities
  • Fill out a diary
  • Get out and about
  • Help others
  • Join the University of the Third Age

If you know an elderly person you think may be feeling isolated, reach out to them and ask them how they are feeling.

FURTHER RESOURCES AND SUPPORT

  • Age UK offers a lot of information on loneliness in the elderly and offers a weekly phone call where someone can just have a chat if they are feeling lonely.
  • The Campaign to End Loneliness believe that people of all ages need connections that matter. They offer information and support to those who feel isolated.