According to the Office for National Statistics, which has been measuring national wellbeing since 2010, the overall mental wellbeing of the UK population, and the proportion of people with someone to rely on has dropped in the last three years, while the proportion of people in unhappy relationships has risen in the same period.
The lead up to Valentine’s Day can be a crisis point for many, as cards and flowers fill the shops. We seem to be more connected than ever on social media, but has this been at the expense of real communication? How is this affecting our ability to achieve in life and what can we do about it?
In this article you will learn:
- The negative effects of loneliness
- Can loneliness have any positives?
- Some ideas for tackling loneliness
UK mental health charity Mind, says that feeling lonely isn't in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem increases your chance of feeling lonely, and feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health. It can also increase the risk of high blood pressure, and have an impact on cognitive decline. Our dependence upon technology has also been implicated, while it is far easier to stay in touch across distances, people spend less time communicating in person than they have in the past.
As Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK stated recently while outlining the job facing the incoming Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch: “There is mounting evidence showing that the impact of chronic loneliness and the stress hormones triggered can contribute to the development of heart disease, stroke, depression and dementia.”
Being alone is not the same as being lonely. There is nothing wrong with being on your own if you are comfortable with it. John Donne may have written that “no man is an island” but some people are with Sartre, for them “hell is other people”, and they’re happier to be a castaway.
Humans have long stigmatised solitude and aligned it with negative outcomes. Freud, who linked solitude with anxiety, noted that, in children ‘the first phobias relating to situations are those of darkness and solitude’. But increasingly scientists are approaching solitude as something that, when pursued by choice, can prove therapeutic.
Medway’s Improving Mental Health Provision charity (IMHP) agrees: “There are positives, time alone is useful for healthy reflection and to re-charge. Some people are just less social and happier in their own company for the most part, the time they spend alone is vital to their wellbeing when balanced with some interaction with others. Hobbies, talents, and areas that an individual is passionate about are often best pursued alone – few people write a book or an album of songs in company.”
IMHP runs drop in sessions for people who are seeking social connection. They point out that there are two paths a person can take. On the one hand is “acceptance of time alone and making a conscious choice to see it as something useful and enjoyable” via hobbies and such. On the other, a person can make small adjustments to parts of their life that they can control easily. Small things such as making an effort to visit a local cafe, or engaging with social groups if money is tight. Essentially, when isolation is not a choice, a choice must be made to address it.
Other ways to tackle loneliness include:
- Thinking about what is making you lonely
- Making new connections
- Checking how you are feeling
- Getting some help from friends, family or professionals
If you are struggling with mental health issues or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please speak to someone – there are various services available free of charge.