Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 is 9-15 May and will focus on loneliness. Usually, our image of someone ‘being lonely’ is an older person, isolated and alone.
But research says that this image is far too simplistic. Statistically, younger people report feeling lonely the most. And this age group tends to be surrounded by people most of the time. Therefore, loneliness isn’t just about ‘being alone’.
It’s actually characterised by the gap between the relationships you have and those you want. Because it’s very isolating being around people you can’t connect with on a meaningful level. It can feel more lonely than being alone.
The BBC’s Loneliness Experiment surveyed 55,000 people from across the world. It found that a whopping 40% of those aged 16-24 reported feeling loneliness often or very often.
The study was the biggest of its kind and had interesting findings, for example:
- Loneliness isn’t always linked to being alone.
- A third of people often or very often feel lonely.
- People feel shame about being lonely.
- People who feel lonely report lower health as well as lower trust in others.
Downward spiral of loneliness
Clinical psychologist, Dr Hazel Harrison, is part of our team of experts at Elevate. She says: “relationships are one of the biggest predictors of our happiness and wellbeing long term. The pandemic has changed how we connect and for some people has caused a downward spiral of poorer mental and physical health.”
Studies show that lack of social connections increases the risk of premature death by up to 29%. This is a greater risk of death than for other factors such as obesity, lack of exercise or air pollution.
It’s clear from these studies that loneliness has a huge range of negative impacts. These include an increased risk of:
- Coronary heart disease and stroke.
- High blood pressure.
- Cognitive decline, dementia and progression of frailty in older people.
- Reduced immunity.
- Decreased sleep quality.
- Increased inactivity and smoking.
- Lower self-esteem.
- Increased reliance on social, emergency and health services in older people.
Most importantly, the initial lack of social connection leads outwards in a web of negative impacts. As a result, these create an overall downward spiral. Therefore, reducing social isolation and loneliness is so important to improving people’s quality of life.
How can we improve connection and decrease loneliness?
As Dr Harrison highlights, improving our connection to other people and decreasing loneliness can be the single biggest factor in improving wellbeing and happiness.
Read our top 4 tips on setting yourself on an upward spiral of connection and wellbeing:
- Talk to someone you trust about how you feel. Although it won’t change how you feel, even the act of confiding in someone else increases your connection to another person.
- Increase your chances of making meaningful connections. Do this by taking part in activities that you find fulfilling and being open to spontaneous connection.
- Be active within your local community. Strike up a conversation in a local shop, volunteer with a local organisation, read to children in your local school, or join a local club or gym. The important thing is that it’s a cause which resonates with you.
- Access wellbeing resources and workshops. These could be online or in-person, but they’ll all offer you strategies and skills to improve your wellbeing, confidence and feeling of connection.
Sign up for our mental health workshop on connection