Help! I feel lonely

No one wants to feel lonely. It’s a miserable feeling, and often people feel too ashamed to talk about it. But feeling lonely is very common and lots of young people feel the same. We spoke to Laura Alcock-Ferguson, Executive Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, about how to cope.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is the unpleasant feeling we have when there is a mismatch between the social relationships we want, and the ones that we have.

Am I alone, or lonely?

There is a difference between being alone, and feeling lonely. Solitude – being alone – is different to loneliness. Lots of people live alone, but do not feel lonely because they have social relationships and connections that they want and need.

Mental health charity Mind says loneliness is about ‘not feeling part of the world’. Loneliness makes you feel emotionally isolated – like you’re not connected to people, or you don’t belong.

You’re not the only one who feels lonely…

9 million people in the UK report feeling lonely, sometimes or often. It’s normal to experience loneliness, and it’s important that we normalise it to break down the stigma. It can occur at anytime, but there are also triggers to feeling lonely. Loneliness is like hunger or thirst; it’s our bodies telling us that we need social contact. Remember that millions of people experience loneliness – it’s not a failing.

Why do I feel lonely?

Loneliness can occur at anytime, but there are also triggers to feeling lonely. There are lots of reasons why you might feel lonely. Some of these include:

  • Moving to a new city or country
  • Starting university
  • Falling out with your friends, or just growing apart
  • A relationship breaking up
  • The death of someone close to you
  • Having to care for a family member

Social media and technology can also exacerbate loneliness. Sometimes it can help us to make new friends and connections, and meet people who share our interests and passions. But it cannot replace real face-to-face contact and interaction. If it does, it can be isolating and make us feel lonelier.

How does loneliness affect my health?

Human beings are naturally social, so being lonely isn’t good for us. Loneliness can be as bad for physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or obesity. It can also contribute to feelings of anxiety, stress and depression, and have a negative impact on our mental health. Feeling lonely and isolated affects our self-esteem, and we can think that people won’t want to talk to us or be friends. You won’t feel like this forever – it’s really just the loneliness talking.

Why are feelings of loneliness increasing?

There is still a great deal of stigma about loneliness. Last year, the Campaign to End Loneliness research found that over half of British adults say that admitting to loneliness is difficult.

There are lots of reasons why loneliness is on the rise. Our research found that almost half (49%) of UK adults say that their busy lives stop them from connecting with other people. Young people can feel disconnected from their communities because many rent and feel unable to put down roots. Our opportunities for small moments of connection – such as small talk at the bus stop – have been reduced, because we’re often plugged into our phones. The result of all these factors is growing loneliness and isolation. Issues such as illness and unemployment also make loneliness much more likely. Carers are vulnerable to loneliness, and can feel cut off from friends. Remember, loneliness is not about someone’s “personality”; it can be driven by factors such as health and economic status.

What can I do about it? How can I stop feeling lonely?

Think about what you would like more of. Time with friends or family? Invite them to visit you or arrange to do something with them. Secondly, share your skills and time with others; volunteering is a fantastic way to make new friends. Join a community event; Nextdoor is a great way to find out what is happening in your local area. If you have a passion for something – swimming, walking, reading – join a local club to meet likeminded people. And join the Be More Us movement for tips and ideas to feel more connected.

If loneliness is getting you down, talking to someone can really help. You may want to consider counselling to explore how you’re feeling. You can also contact Samaritans any time if you need to talk – it’s free to call them on 116123 from any phone including mobiles.

Next Steps

  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Charlie Duffield

Updated on 29-Sep-2015