May has been Mental Health Awareness Month with a focus on loneliness and in this post, we will explore how loneliness can manifest, who might be at most risk, and what we can do to help anyone who may be feeling lonely.
Feeling lonely can hit anyone at any age and at any time during our lives and it can be one of the major health concerns people may face.
A Definition of Loneliness
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. This definition was devised by Perlman and Peplau in 1981 and advocated by the Campaign to End Loneliness in the United Kingdom.
Several Facts About Loneliness
Based on research by Holt-Lunstad in 2015 they found that loneliness has these impacts:
- Increases the risk of death by 26%
- Be more dangerous to health than obesity or smoking fifteen cigarettes a day
- Increases blood pressure
- Lead to an increased risk of depression in later life
- Social isolation increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia
Age and Gender
- Estimates are that by 2025/26 up to two million people who are over 50 will be lonely
- An estimated 3.9 million older people say that their television is their main source of company
- Women are more likely to report feeling lonely than men
- A recent survey found that 14% of older men reported feeling lonely and 11% of women.
- Lonely people are more likely to be widowed, suffer from poor health, or may suffer from a disability.
- A reported 45% of adults in the United Kingdom reported that they felt lonely occasionally, sometimes, or often.
- A survey by Action for Children found that 43% of 17 – 25-year-olds who used their service had experienced problems with loneliness
Types of Loneliness
Loneliness can manifest in diverse ways:
Social loneliness – lack of a wider social network
Emotional loneliness – the absence of a significant other
Existential loneliness – the universal aspect of the human condition which recognises the separateness of people from others.
Loneliness can take different forms such as:
Situational – such as weekend and major holidays
Transient – it can come and go
Chronic – someone who feels lonely most or all the time
It can also manifest in terms of feeling the loneliness of dealing with a serious physical or mental illness when someone feels as if they need to battle every aspect of their experience alone.
Identifying risk factors that can lead to loneliness
- Having few friends and feeling socially isolated
- Suffering from poor health
- Living with a disability or illness
- Living with a mental health condition
- Being single, divorced, separated, or widowed.
- Living on a low income
- Suffering from poor mental health
- Being a carer
- Giving up driving
- Living in a residential home
- Suffering from dementia
Understanding how Loneliness can Feel
People who feel lonely can feel different feelings such as:
- I feel like nobody needs me
- I feel like I am not important to anyone
- I do not feel like I have any meaningful relationships
- I feel like I do not exist
Things to try when you are feeling lonely
- Remember loneliness is a universal experience and we all feel lonely from time to time.
- You can take action to change your environment and how you feel.
- You can only control the things that directly impact your life – you cannot control the terrible things that happen in the world and their impact on others.
- You are cared for, and people love you.
- Practice gratitude as it is helpful to remind yourself of all the things you value in life.
- Embrace your creativity and take time out to enjoy your hobbies and interest
- You should share your feelings and should not be ashamed to do so.
- Be proactive about managing your feelings on social media – if it gets too much turn it off.
- Find your community by finding a group of people who share your values, interests, and beliefs.
- Practice self-care and prioritise your needs and be kind to yourself
Often loneliness can be the result of a lack of work-life balance and at Aim Higher Training we offer a free online course Spotlight on Work-Life Balance. In this course, you can work to evaluate the areas of your life that may be out of balance and start to develop a plan to make your life feel more balanced.
If you are feeling lonely, please reach out for support as there is lots of help available.
The UK charity MIND offers lots of advice and guidance about mental health issues and has some good advice on how to cope with loneliness and the Marmalade Trust also provides lots of help and support.