It can feel horribly isolating to believe that no one in the world cares about you, and that you’re completely on your own. Anyone who’s experienced loneliness may know just how empty and hollow life can feel.
For some, loneliness may be linked to a current situation and therefore fleeting. For others, prolonged loneliness may settle into a resigned state that becomes increasingly difficult to talk about. Loneliness Awareness Week (17th to 21st June) is this year aiming to reduce the stigma around loneliness – and to make it easier to talk about.
Government figures quoted by Marmalade Trust, the charity behind Loneliness Awareness Week, show that:
- Loneliness doesn’t just affect older people. One in 10 people aged 16-24 are ‘always or often’ lonely – which is three times higher than for people aged 65.
- The UK is said to be the loneliest country in Europe.
- Loneliness can be as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or being obese. Loneliness can be a major factor in causing issues such as heart attacks and strokes.
- Around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.
- Three out of four GPs say they see between one and five people a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely.
Feeling lonely can affect anyone at any time – and loneliness is much more than just being on your own. Solitude is defined as “the situation of being alone without other people – often by choice”. Loneliness, on the other hand, is defined as “a state of solitude, of being on one’s own – but feeling sad about it”, and possibly linked with feelings of disconnectedness and isolation. The crucial impact on mental health of being on your own is whether you’ve chosen to be alone or not.
The impact of loneliness on mental health can include:
- Withdrawing and creating a further sense of isolation. Lonely people spending time on their own can gradually lose their sense of how to be with people socially, and so they withdraw further, and their lives become smaller.
- Loneliness going hand in hand with depression. It’s hard to say whether depression causes loneliness or loneliness causes depression, but the effects can feel pretty similar.
- Anxiety in social situations. If you’re unused to socialising, and you have to suddenly learn some social skills to navigate a party or event, it’s understandable why you’re natural instinct is to avoid said event. That won’t help your loneliness, and it can be worthwhile tapping into your inner resilience to make the effort to attend and meet new people.
- The experience of poor quality relationships. Often the worst kind of loneliness can be in a crowded room where you just can’t feel a connection with anyone.
If you know someone who’s lonely…
Marmalade Trust and Loneliness Awareness Week encourage you to acknowledge that loneliness can happen to anyone, and it’s OK to talk about it. Ask someone to a social gathering or offer companionship in the best way you can.
If you’re feeling lonely…
and want to increase your feelings of belonging and wellbeing, you can start to make a difference for yourself by reaching out in small but achievable ways. This may be through social media, other online networking – and/or joining groups (social, exercise, hobbies) to begin to create a sense of connection with like-minded people. Start safe and grow your confidence step by step.
Marmalade Trust was apparently built on the principles of Paddington Bear: being alone in a strange place, but staying positive, saying hello to people – and sharing marmalade sandwiches.
If you’d like to talk through our own feelings of loneliness, call us to make an appointment with one of our team of therapists. We have sessions seven days a week at our centres in Clapham and Tooting. You can reach us on [email protected] and 020 8673 4545. Our team can support you in finding the right therapist for you.