Mental Health Matters: Loneliness

Close of of hands using a mobile phoneWith the increase in social media use, you can be excused for thinking that people have no need to be lonely; contact is but a click away. It may surprise you therefore to know that during a study by Primack, Shensa, Sidani and Miller in 2017 in the USA young adults with high social media use seemed to feel more socially isolated than their counterparts with lower social media use.

Loneliness is a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship, which happens when there is a mismatch between the quantity and quality of the social relationships that we have, and those that we want (Perlman and Peplau, 1981).

It can lead to us questioning where we belong in life and our value to others. In short, it is the absence of connection, not the absence of people, which is why a person can feel lonely in a crowd.

In Psychology Today 2019, Degges-White writes that there are three types of loneliness:

Existential loneliness

From an existential perspective, a little bit of existential loneliness is good for the soul, and it is definitely an inevitable part of the human experience. However, loneliness tends to stir up negative feelings, and while those can be helpful in terms of self-exploration, they are also something to which we are averse and want to avoid as much as we can.

Emotional loneliness

This type of loneliness arises from a feeling that you lack relationships or attachments. You might experience emotional loneliness when all but you have a romantic partner in your group.

Emotional loneliness can be felt when you need someone to talk to about something going on in your life and feel that there is no one available to contact. If your heart has broken, you might feel lonely for the person who has moved out of your life. You might be lonely for a close friend, a parent, a sibling.

Social loneliness

loneliness risk factors as described in the textThis type of loneliness occurs when you don’t feel a sense of belonging to a group beyond yourself. You might even feel social loneliness even when you’re in a romantic relationship with a partner you treasure.

If you don’t have a wider circle of social support, you may feel that you, or you and your partner, don’t have a group with whom you belong. When you walk into a party and don’t recognize anyone familiar, a feeling of social loneliness may wash over you if you don’t typically feel comfortable approaching new people. If you don’t feel that your presence is valued in a wider circle, you might experience social loneliness.

Loneliness can be transient, it comes and goes, it can be situational, for example only occurring at certain times like Christmas or Bank Holidays. Loneliness can also be characterised by its intensity or how strongly it is felt.

Whilst loneliness can be felt by people of all ages, risk factors that might lead to loneliness increase as we get older, some of these factors include:

  • Being socially isolated or having no family or friends
  • Being single, divorced or separated
  • Living alone
  • Being aged 75+
  • Developing or living with a life-limiting illness or disability
  • Living with a mental health condition
  • Living on a low income – poverty
  • Bereavement, becoming widowed
  • Retirement
  • Geographical relocation
  • Living in a residential care home
  • Becoming a carer
  • Loss of mobility
  • Sensory loss
  • Giving up driving

Dealing with loneliness

group of people sitting together laughingThere is no one way to effectively deal with loneliness, but there are lots of little things that can be done to help, the Campaign to End Loneliness suggest amongst others:

  • Reaching out to your friends by picking up the phone or sending them a message through social media.
  • Joining local interest groups or volunteering in the local community
  • Saying hello to your neighbour, the shopkeeper or a person at a bus stop, brief exchanges can positively impact how you feel.

Consider support and services, talking to someone about how you feel and learning positive coping strategies can be helpful. Talking therapies can be accessed through GP services, community support hubs or privately.

If you prefer to try and manage on your own, there are things that can be done to help. Plan your week to do something you enjoy, spend time outdoors, prioritise looking after yourself, eat healthy, exercise and sleep well.

If you want to know more about his topic, or feel that someone you know may require some help with loneliness the following web pages may be useful:

Written by Neil Ward, Training Consultant at WA Management.

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