Loneliness & Being Alone
Loneliness & being alone; recent news reports are raising awareness on what this means for us in today’s society by focusing on opposite ends of the life spectrum. That is, the experiences of and impact on young people and the elderly.

Although loneliness and being alone are often considered as the same thing, there is a crucial difference. You can choose to be alone and be happy or, as I often heard when taking calls on a national helpline, you could have a lot of contact with friends or family but still feel lonely. As the saying goes, 'feeling lonely in a room full of people'.

Loneliness and finding it hard to be alone with our self are both struggles that many of us experience throughout our lives. A Mental Health Foundation report suggested that 1 in 10 Britons are lonely, and there is finally growing evidence to prove the links between loneliness and poor health, both mental and physical.

A BBC report looked at how GP prescriptions are going to tackle loneliness for older people. It details how local authorities are going to be judged on how well they work with social isolation. With recent cuts to funding, the call falls again on volunteer schemes, such as befriending, to help our older people who are experiencing loneliness.

Today, a report in the The Guardian contested that loneliness is in fact a plague that is hurting our young people the most. The article draws attention to the fact that loneliness amongst our elderly is a recognised problem but although there is evidence to suggest it is a greater concern for young people, there is not the support available.

So what are the thoughts on why we are seeing both a rise in loneliness and a struggle to be alone? Social media, people having less funds to engage in social activities, transient populations meaning family and friends are more spread out, living longer, a decrease in a sense of community?

Another article I read (which unfortunately I can no longer locate) looked at how young people find it hard to be alone. With the rapid rise in the use of social media to interact rather than through meaningful person to person contact, more young people are constantly interacting electronically. This in turn leads to other studies linking social media to anxiety and depression; the selective, 2D fashion in which lives are shared on social media triggers feelings of inadequacy and a need for electronic approval of self.

Therefore, if you combine this with the constantly accessible, immediate, and demanding nature of social media, this could be a contributory factor to young people feeling lonely, as well as struggling to be ok with their self and being able to enjoy time alone.

Whether young, old, or in middle age, loneliness and being alone interwine in a complex way with mental health & emotional difficulties, which will be unique to each individual’s experience. For example, we might feel isolated from a group and therefore lonely because of the stigma of mental health that we are still battling in our society. Or, as we experience emotional difficulties we might feel the urge to cope with our own pain by withdrawing from contact to be alone.

So, what can we do about feeling lonely or finding it hard to be alone?

As our blog about Mental Health Awareness Week says – try, even when it seems like the hardest thing to do, to reach out to others and talk.  You might find relief from talking to a counsellor or someone at a helpline about feeling lonely or being alone (see useful contacts).

Getting to know & make peace with ourselves so we can enjoy meaningful time alone - making time for this, acknowledging it is not selfish but important. It improves the quality of relationships and time spent with others if we know ourselves and can be our less stressed, genuine selves.

Mind also has some useful tips.

Counselling can help with both loneliness and being alone. It can help you get to know yourself, recognise your needs and take action on getting those met; whether that is by spending time alone or interacting with others. This can lead to a life where being alone with yourself is precious and you are able to have a fulfilling time in relationship with others.

Wishing you good mental health and emotional wellbeing,

Laura