There is a difference between being alone and loneliness. People on their own can sometimes feel lonely. This is normal. However, lonely people feel alone and lonely all the time or to a large degree, which isn’t healthy. Older adults who struggle with constant feelings of loneliness have deep psychological roots that more often than not started in childhood. It is important to understand what loneliness is and what can cause it.

Is Loneliness Bad for Mental Health?

Definition

Loneliness can be defined as a distressing experience that occurs when a person’s social relationships are perceived by that person to be less in quantity, and especially in quality than desired. (Britannica.com 19 Aug 2021). It can be more simply understood as being without social contact but wanting and needing social connections. Loneliness engenders desperation along with a lack of self-worth, which leads to self-pity and wretchedness.

A lonely person will seek solace in any relationship at first. However, when the relationships that they have established do not take away the feelings of isolation, they look at the quality of those relationships and the quantity. It is important to understand that this type of loneliness is more than just a superficial need for attention. At times we will all experience true loneliness to a greater or lesser, temporary extent.

Causes

There are a number of causes that foster acute loneliness. It could be because we grow up more co-dependent rather than independent these days. This is especially true as a result of the rise in popularity of social media platforms and the public health risks younger generations are subject to online. Research suggests that feelings of loneliness are very different from having a social phobia, which is a fear of being around others. We can experience loneliness even when living or being with others, either socially or after starting university or a new job, and we don’t feel like we fit in. Here are some of the more common causes.

Living alone

For some adults, living alone is the first time that they truly experience being away from interactions with family members. All of a sudden, life seems silent and empty. This can lead to anxiety which in turn triggers feelings of loneliness as well as the fear of living alone. It reveals how co-dependent they have been on the company or at least the presence of others. In many people, living alone reveals a lack of independence and self-dependence.

Divorce

Single parents can feel disconnected from social life and people, as their time is spent either at work, in childcare, or doing housework. Oftentimes, this is coupled with feelings of depression and a lack of monetary means to do anything socially. It leads to a total dissatisfaction with the life they are living and to a longing for a better life, even though they love their children. They can feel trapped in isolation and feel hopeless about their future chances of happiness.

Bereavement

The death of a partner, or a close friend or relative can spark feelings of loneliness. This is exacerbated when death is unexpected and sudden. This leads first to self-isolating before being overtaken by feelings of being isolated. Failure to address the problem can lead to despair and further anxiety.

Lonely hearts

While loneliness is not necessarily a mental health problem, doctors associate it with mental health problems. This is because depression, low self-esteem, and high-stress levels can all cause feelings of loneliness. These feelings then manifest in seeking out a relationship as a solution. Transference suggests that you can only achieve success and happiness by being dependent on others. This should never be a reason for starting a relationship.

Additional Reading: The risks of social isolation and loneliness

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