According to www.mind.org.uk, “Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely. For example, some people may have misconceptions about what certain mental health problems mean, so you may find it difficult to speak to them about your problems (see our pages on tips for dealing with stigma).1How can I deal with stigma? Read More ➥ Or you may experience social phobia – also known as social anxiety – and find it difficult to engage in everyday activities involving other people, which could lead to a lack of meaningful social contact and cause feelings of loneliness.”
One description of loneliness is our desire for recognition and connections with others going unanswered.
We cannot confuse loneliness with being alone. There are times we are alone by choice and do not feel at all lonely. Conversely, we can be in a crowd but have no social connection to anyone there, and loneliness is present.
Loneliness is a complicated condition according to the British Journal of Mental Health Nursing. It is a response to chronic social and emotional isolation.
- It typically includes anxiety, stress, and a feeling of lack of connecting or communicating with other people.
- Causes of loneliness vary by individual but include social, mental, emotional, and physical factors.
The Main Question About the Relation Between Loneliness and Mental Health
The question that looms the most about the relation between loneliness and mental health is whether our being lonely affects our mental health or our mental health problem affects our loneliness?” The answer seems to be yes.
- It depends on the individual being treated. The only sure thing is there is a relationship between the two.
According to mind.org.uk, feeling lonely in itself isn’t a mental health problem, but the two are closely linked. If you have a mental health problem, it greatly increases your chance of being lonely.
Feeling lonely can negatively affect your mental health. This is especially true if you have gone through a long period of loneliness. Many mental health problems present themselves as a result of loneliness.
Mental Health Problems as A Result of Loneliness
- Low self-esteem
- Sleep problems
- Increased stress
- Risk of suicide ideation or action
One study has shown that lonely individuals are more likely to experience sleep problems, increased stress levels, and impaired cognitive function (Loneliness is associated with risk of cognitive impairment in the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe, Martina Luchetti, Antonio Terracciano, Damaris Aschwanden, Ji Hyun Lee, Yannick Stephan, and Angelina R. Sutin).
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “social isolation was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia.” One theory is that loneliness results in chronic stress, which in turn damages the brain. Stress causes the release of harmful chemicals like cortisol, which can damage brain cells and lead to inflammation. This inflammation has been linked to cognitive decline and dementia.
Causes Of Loneliness
- Going through a bereavement. The death of someone close to you can leave a substantial void.
- Experiencing a relationship breakup.
- Retiring and losing social contact with those you work with.
- Starting a new job and not knowing your new co-workers.
- Thoughts and attitudes. How we think of ourselves and the world around us can trigger loneliness.
- Lack of close relationships.
- Lack of regular social interaction.
- Experiencing grief and loss.
- Illness or the onset of a new disability.
- Empty nest syndrome.
- Moving to a new area especially if it is far from loved ones.
- Pandemics like Covid-19 and its consequent shelter-in-place orders resulted in people; according to Harvard Health, 36% of Americans felt “serious loneliness” in 2020.
- Living far from loved ones.
- Excessive social media usage,
- Many people feel lonely during the holidays.
- The anniversary of a sad time in your life can also cause feelings of loneliness.
Some research suggests that people in certain groups or circumstances are more prone to loneliness.
- This is especially true of people with no family or close friends or people estranged from their family.
- The elderly who lacks a solid support system and/or family living nearby.
- This is also true of people who have a hard time maintaining a social life because of being a single parent or caregiver to others.
- Others who are vulnerable to loneliness may include people excluded from social events due to lack of money and mobility issues.
Whenever these causes stack up or hit a person hard, they seem to lose hope of making a personal connection. The more it happens, the deeper a person sinks into seclusion. If this persists for a long period, mental problems can damage a person’s health.
Any one or a combination of the mental health problems mentioned previously can cause a person to possibly injure themselves, maybe to the point of trying suicide (Centers for Disease Control)2Facts About Suicide Read More ➥.
That is why it is so important to get help when you recognize these problems. If you see someone experiencing long-term loneliness, reach out and try to get the person some help.
Sources: AARP, Forbes, and WebMD