The 9th – 15th May is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme this year is loneliness. Everyone will probably be affected by loneliness at some point in their life. If you have never experienced it, you will no doubt know some one who is suffering with it. Loneliness can both induce poor mental health and be the product of poor mental health. 

If you suffer with depression or anxiety, you are more likely to isolate yourself. You may feel that those around you do not understand you and may think you are a burden to others. These thoughts, feelings and behaviours increase the likelihood of experiencing loneliness. If you are lonely, you are lacking human connections with others. You may not receive enough attention from others or feel part of a community.  The lack of connection will impact your mental health and may result in depression or anxiety. 


Loneliness and our emotional needs


All human beings have a set of needs. It is by meeting our physical and emotional needs that we survive and develop as individuals. If these needs are appropriately met then you will flourish. Without our physical needs being met we will die. Without our emotional needs being met we will survive but we won’t thrive. We need both the freedom to stimulate our senses and exercise our muscles. 

Loneliness occurs when we are missing either our needs for community, attention or emotional intimacy. Humans are a pack animal and we need to connect with others to feel accepted and safe. We need to both give and receive attention from others. We need to form meaningful relationships with other people. These relationships help provide us with meaning in life. If we have limited conversations and support from others we automatically start listening more to our inner voice and thoughts. The inner voice is rarely kind and will highlight the negatives and the inadequacies. As this voice becomes more dominant you will start to lose confidence and feel useless. You may feel life is meaningless as nobody notices, cares about or wants you. You are also likely to withdraw from the connections that you do have if you are feeling worthless. 

Lonely in a crowd 

Loneliness can also occur despite being surrounded by people. If a person feels they are not understood or they don’t receive the attention they need they can feel lonely. If they feel disconnected and empty, then they may withdraw. Their loneliness starts to impact who they are and how they communicate with others.  


Why is the rate of loneliness increasing?


It is reported that there are increasingly more people reporting feeling lonely then ever before. It is unknown whether there is an increase in lonely people or whether more people are admitting they are lonely. Over the last couple of years, the pandemic has highlighted the impact of loneliness. Workplaces had to adapt to home working and this caused many people’s emotional needs to be compromised. Medical appointments and therapy are increasingly undertaken online or over the telephone. 

Technology has grown expediently and has had a massive impact on human interactions. Communicating with others is often done via technology. Messaging applications or social media are increasingly used as opposed to the phone or meeting people. Social media allows people to instantly share their daily lives reducing the need to catch up with family or friends. 

The availability and ease of travel has created a more transient community. People will no longer just apply for jobs in their local area. It is not unusual for families to be scattered either around the UK or even worldwide. The regularity of relocations also means friendships become transient. Many people have no one they know who lives close by. 

Communities have dissipated, many people no longer know their neighbours. The need for profit has meant closures of community centres, social clubs, libraries and public houses. An increase in food deliveries means a reduction in eating out as good food can be delivered to our door. Online shopping also means that the weekly trip to the supermarket and the chatter with people in store has reduced. This has meant many people do not have a place to go out and socialise with their local community. 


The rise of individualism


Western culture is typically focused very much on individualism. We are encouraged to become self sufficient and achieve things for ourselves. Success is given to those who achieve more than someone else. We are competing against each other in terms of work, earnings, belongings and holidays. 

A scan through social media highlights how much our youth feel like they do not stack up against their peers. They do not feel like they are as clever, as thin or as successful as others. This culture instinctively makes us withdraw from our community and as a result, increases our loneliness.


Loneliness and Shame 


Because we are programmed to want to feel a part of the community, we tend to feel shame when we don’t. People are very often embarrassed to admit that they are lonely, sometimes even to themselves, let alone others! I can tell you as a therapist that we very frequently have clients that admit to us that they are lonely, and feel embarrassed to say that, even in that safe space. It may help to know that a great many people who are struggling with their mental health are suffering from loneliness. 

There is no shame in feeling lonely. It is simply your brain’s way of telling you that your life right now isn’t working best for you, and that can happen to anyone at times. So don’t be embarrassed to tell someone that you are struggling; the chances are they have felt the same at some point. 


So what are the solutions?


As with all emotions they arise to tell us something. If we feel lonely it is a gentle reminder that we need to engage more with others. The key thing to do is to go and do something where you meet and talk with other people. Some suggestions you could try would include:


There are loads of organisations both charitable and community that need some support. Have a look at your local council website or volunteering websites. There will be opportunities available that will help you meet new people whilst also supporting a good cause. 

Hobbies and activities

Whatever you enjoy doing there will be a local club where you can meet like minded people. It can be nerve racking when you first join but most people are welcoming. 

Socialise with a friend

Ask someone to meet up with you. You could go out for a meal or a walk. If you don’t know what you will talk about you could go to the cinema or theatre. Again, it can be nerve racking to take the plunge and ask but the rewards will be worth it. 

Open up to someone about your feelings

Often admitting you are lonely can be a great first step. Your friends and family may not even have realised how lonely you are. They may have become preoccupied with things in their own life. Just talking to them may mean they start to visit you more or ask you to go places. If you don’t want to talk to someone you know you could try a helpline, such as CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) or a therapist. Therapy could help you to remove the barriers that are stopping you from getting your needs met and offer a progressive framework of manageable tasks to help get you feeling part of the community again. 


How can you support someone who is lonely?


To support someone who is lonely first try and have a conversation with them about it. If they are willing to talk it through with you, ask them how you can help them. They know what they need, however if they are unsure, you could offer some suggestions like those above. Alternatively take the lead and ask them to go out with you for a meal or an evening out. You could phone them or pop around to theirs with some biscuits and have a chat. The most important thing is to make time and make them feel like you want to spend it with them. 


If you need additional support…


A good place to start in understanding your essential emotional needs is by taking our Emotional Needs Audit. This will help you understand which of your needs are not being well met. If you want to discuss things in more detail then feel free to contact us and arrange a consultation. We use the human givens approach and focus on any underlying lack or imbalance in your needs. We can help to identify the reasons behind your loneliness and what’s stopping you from moving forwards. In discussion and agreement with yourself we will then help you develop a plan. This will identify effective and practical solutions that are individual and work for you. 

I hope that you have found this information useful. As always, if you know of someone who would benefit from reading it then please share. Why not head over to our website for useful information and downloads.

With warmest wishes


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