Loneliness—more than a state of mind
It's been deemed society's silent killer—we're looking at loneliness.
Feeling lonely isn’t, in itself, a mental health problem. But loneliness and mental health are inextricably linked, and one can exacerbate the other. So we’re shining a light on loneliness as one of the key factors in mental health disorders. In this article, we’ll look why we get lonely, why it’s bad for us, and how we can fight loneliness.
How to fight loneliness
We can’t get rid of loneliness for everyone, forever. We all have times that we’ll be lonely, and that’s okay. But if you’re feeling lonely over an extended period, or if its starting to affect your mood, there are things you can do. These are some of the tips that work for us.
1. Focus on the people already there
Rather than pouring all your energy into finding new friends, or footballs named Wilson—make a conscious effort to connect with people you already know. Simple things like a birthday text, offers to babysit, and calling just for a chat can go a long way.
2. Get outside
Schedule times to leave the house, consistently. For a class or sport, a hobby, a walk in the park—whatever works well for you. Taking part in a regular activity you know you’ll enjoy will help you to foster natural connections with likeminded people.
3. Interact with animals
Unfortunately, we can’t all have pets. That’s why sites like Borrow My Doggy exist, putting you in touch with local dog owners looking for someone to walk their dog. Or you could go old-school, and see if any of your neighbours have a pet that needs company.
4. Volunteer for a good cause
Lots of charities are stretched at the moment, and could do with all the help they can get. Find a local one, and see if they need any help. You’ll be helping out a good cause, and meeting new people in the process.
5. Ask for help
If you’re consistently feeling down because of a lack of social connection, talk to a health professional or counsellor. It’s not weird, they won’t judge you, and it’s important that you have access to the right support.
Why do we get lonely
A study from Trinity College Dublin has found that, rather than being a one-dimensional thing, loneliness can be split into four classes, with two of them having symptoms as serious as a psychiatric disorder.
There are two broad types of loneliness, social and emotional. Social loneliness relates to the quantity of people you have relationships with, whereas emotional loneliness is about the quality of those relationships.
Almost 2,000 people aged 21-70 took part in the study, and 17.1% of them were found to be “lonely”. Their results were categorised into four classes based on their responses on both emotional and social scales:
Low on both emotional and social loneliness scales - 52.8%
Social Loneliness - 8.2%
Emotional Loneliness - 26.6%
Social and Emotional Loneliness - 12.4%
The first two classes were the least psychologically distressed, whereas people in the “emotional” and “social and emotional” classes were suffering symptoms of depression, anxiety and negative psychological well-being.
Is being lonely bad for you?
The Royal College of Nursing describes loneliness as ‘one of the greatest public health challenges of our time’.
It can lead to physical illnesses like asthma and autoimmune diseases, as genes which promote inflammation are more active among lonely people. It’s also a major mortality risk, with a lack of social interaction increasing the likelihood of an early death by up to 26%. That’s a higher risk factor than either obesity or physical inactivity, and the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.