Healthy relationships with oneself and others are both important aspects of life that are a starting point for mental wellness. A sense of connection can also support people who are experiencing poor mental health. This is never more apparent than during times such as the current COVID pandemic. Connect with one of our therapists now for support.
Loneliness is a negative feeling of being alone. Unlike solitude, a positive feeling of being alone, loneliness describes feeling alone, and wishing for something else – like company, connection or companionship.
Loneliness is common for people who are isolated, such as people who are elderly or who don’t have a good support network of family or friends. During the Covid-19 lockdown, many people who live alone will have been through periods of extreme isolation that may have been stressful, painful, or depressing.
Social isolation can affect those who have trouble communicating, such as people with hearing loss or autism. People who struggle to walk, drive or take public transport might also find it harder to get out of the house and meet friends.
People with social anxiety often experience a cycle of isolation and self-isolation in order to manage their anxiety symptoms.
Difficult experiences can isolate people from friends and family. For example people who’ve been through bereavement, chronic illness or significant changes in life might notice that experiences, or the way experiences affect them, affect relationships too.
Likewise, feeling ‘alone’ with a cultural, gender or sexual identity leaves people feeling isolated. It might be that prejudice or fear or prejudice stops a person expressing, sharing and connecting with who they are. Or it might be that a person lacks connection or community with other people who share their identity. People can also experience both types of isolation at once.
It is common to feel lonely after the death of a partner or close friend, or the end of a significant relationship. Talking to a therapist about the experience, and the feelings that follow, can make it easier to make decisions about who else to talk to about it, and how.
Isolation is a common tactic amongst abusers, because isolating someone makes them more dependent on the abuser, easier to control, and more vulnerable.
Loneliness and isolation are not clinical problems, but they are both risk factors for common mental health problems, namely depression and anxiety.
‘Isolation’ is a description of someone who faces a practical challenge to social connection: for example, living alone, hearing loss, autism or social anxiety.
Loneliness is the experience of feeling isolated, whether or not you face specific challenges to connecting with people.
Loneliness is a universal experience that is normal, and not in itself a problem. But when loneliness seems overwhelming or exacerbates existing mental health problems, psychotherapy can help.
Everyone feels lonely at times. In a recent study of adults in England, 45% said they occasionally, sometimes or often felt lonely. During the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK in April 2020, 31% of adults surveyed reported their wellbeing had been affected from loneliness that week.
Because loneliness is so common, many people prefer to find their own way to deal with it.
But when loneliness feels overwhelming or puts mental health at risk, people may decide to ask for help.
Therapy is an ideal place to talk about loneliness because having therapy requires having a working relationship with a therapist. Because this relationship is regular and well-defined, it can be a good place to air out fears about loneliness, identity, self-isolation, rejection and a lack of connection with others.
Part of a therapeutic approach might be to explore things a person can do for themselves to address loneliness. Naturally, a person who feels lonely might think about contacting friends or family, or meeting new people – the therapist might be able to help challenge and support a client to do this. But the therapist might be able to dig a bit deeper into a person’s experience of loneliness and find other ways to explore how they feel. For example, there might be other ways to spend time alone that make loneliness easier to cope with.
Weekly stories show just how universal it is to feel lonely, and what different approaches people take to meeting people or making the most of their own company.
Open events help participants meet and spend time with new people who are likeminded, from similar backgrounds, or who share their interests.
This charity for older people researches and tackles the social isolation this group faces.
A phoneline pairs up older people who experience loneliness or isolation.
A voluntary organisation helps connect people who want to reduce social isolation in their area.