Loneliness is a common human emotion, one that is complex and unique for every person. It can prove to be a challenge for anybody at any age. Children in the playground may struggle to make friends, new mothers may feel isolated, divorced men may lose their peer support, older people struggle at home by themselves, perhaps after bereavement, and may rarely talk to anyone else for days at a time. Loneliness has been recognised as a precursor and cause of poor physical and mental health and has even been described as a ‘hidden killer’ especially among older people.
In the UK, a 2015 report by Nesta and the Cabinet Office, concluded that loneliness was as damaging as smoking and obesity.
Loneliness is defined in two ways. There is the obvious definition that it is, ‘to be alone’, but also loneliness is as much about the perception that you are alone, and therefore you have feelings of isolation. The definition goes hand-in-hand with negative feelings, of dejection, for example, sadness, or a feeling that you have lost your way.
Research suggests that people who are lonely, are more at risk of developing biological dysfunctions, psychological distress, and behavioural problems. At its worst, loneliness can be a cause of suicidal ideation, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It can affect the immune and cardio-vascular system, and also generally lead to an overall decline in well-being. Loneliness can be a cause of insomnia, poor appetite, depression and addiction. Increasingly, loneliness (especially in the elderly) is seen as a disease and is being treated this way.
Many of life’s transitions act as the triggers for loneliness. Starting school for example, removes you from home. Having children means many women lose their self-identity. Separation, divorce, bereavement all cause loneliness. Physical ailments too – loss of hearing, sight, mobility etc. – may all lead eventually to loneliness.
Loneliness, as a state of mind, may useful be treated as a mental health illness, but of course the stigma around mental health issues is rife. Viewing your loneliness as a weakness, something you are responsible for, can be damaging. You may feel embarrassed when you really shouldn’t. Many people live with loneliness but they have a hard time saying, “I’m lonely,” so we just don’t hear about the experience of others.
Remember, we all need friendship to survive. If you feel dejected and lonely, take steps to address the issue. We are better people when we feel part of a community and have others around us. Other people help us to stay motivated, and help us through life when we encounter hurdles, which we will.
Reach out today. Good luck!
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