Loneliness can affect anyone, at any time in their life. It is more than just being alone, although being isolated and alone can increase feelings of loneliness. It is subjective and what feels lonely for one person might be perfectly ok with another.
Social Isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness but is in itself the state of being distanced or isolated from other people. Some people like or have chosen to be isolated and it is possible to be isolated and still have many great friendships which prevent you from becoming lonely.
How prevalent is loneliness and social isolation?
- Half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all
- While higher percentages of older women [50+] report loneliness compared to men, a greater number of older men (50+) report moderate to high levels of social isolation
- 14% of older men experienced moderate to high social isolation compared to 11% of women
- In total, 45% of adults [all ages] feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. This equates to twenty-five million people.
- A survey by Action for Children found that 43% of 17 – 25 year olds who used their service had experienced problems with loneliness, and that of this same group less than half said they felt loved.
- Action for Children have also reported 24% of parents surveyed said they were always or often lonely.
- Research by Sense has shown that up to 50% of disabled people will be lonely on any given day.
Why can loneliness be a problem?
People can often be surprised of the health impacts that loneliness and social isolation can have.
- Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
- Loneliness is worse for you than obesity.
- Loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke.
- Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure.
- Loneliness with severe depression is associated with early mortality and loneliness is a risk factor for depression in later life.
- Loneliness and social isolation put individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
- Loneliness may increase your risk of premature mortality by 26%.
- Research commissioned by Eden Project initiative The Big Lunch found that disconnected communities could be costing the UK economy £32 billion every year.
Please remember that there are things we can all do and that you are not alone if you are feeling lonely. Quite often it only takes something small to reverse the pattern and feelings of loneliness. There are lots of suggestions of what you can do right here on this webpage or check out the guides in the links.
Who is more at risk of becoming lonely?
Be mindful that anyone can feel lonely, at any time, at any age, however there are some life events that could trigger feelings of loneliness, including:
- Moving home,
- Changing schools,
- Coming into the country seeking asylum,
- Leaving the armed forces
- Developing a health condition,
- Leaving care,
- Becoming a parent,
- Becoming a carer,
- Changing jobs or leaving work,
- Experiencing family breakdown,
- or Bereavement.
What are the signs that someone might be feeling lonely?
- Anger, sometimes people can feel embarrased about feeling lonely and this can result in them becoming angry with people who are trying to help.
- Being alone, in itself being alone is not an indicator of loneliness, many people are happy being alone, but combined with other factors it may indicate loneliness.
- Being unproductive, a 2011 study of loneliness in the workplace found that workers who reported feeling lonely were less effective and productive.
- Being overly attached to possessions or hobbies, someone who is lonely can be more attached to the things around them as they provide some of the comfort that is missing in their life.
- Changes in appetite, being uninterested in food, or overeating and comfort eating can both be a sign of loneliness.
- Changes in sleep, sleeping too much or not getting enough quality sleep can both be a sign of loneliness
- Focussing on the negatives, habitually focussing on the negative things or problems can be a sign of loneliness
- Frequent illnesses, being lonely puts a strain on our immune system, that combined with other unhealthy behaviours, such as poor sleep or not eating heathy can lead to being ill more often that someone who isn’t lonely.
- Increased buying habits, comfort buying or buying things because they are bored can be a sign of loneliness
- Increased internet use, although using the internet can be helpful for maintaining relationships, if it is the only way of doing so it can actually increase loneliness.
- Taking more hot baths, being in a hot bath can be a substitute for physical comfort, so if someone if taking more than usual or is taking hot baths in warm weather it might be a sign they are lonely.
- Withdrawing, people who feel lonely often withdraw themselves even further because of feelings of being left out or insecurity. They often feel it’s better to choose to be on your own than feel on the outside looking in.