One in three young adults is lonely and it affects mental health. Almost all of us have experienced loneliness at some point or other. Of concern young adults aged 18-25 are reporting problematic levels of loneliness, according to a new report from Swinburne University. It could be following a break-up, moving away from home or people not including you in their activities.
Researchers have found loneliness is not about the amount of time one spends with other people or alone. It is related to the quality of the relationship, rather than quantity. You can be in the midst of a group of people and still feel lonely.
Is social media use to blame?
Social media is frequently blamed when it comes to young people and their mental health. While seeming to promote social connection, social media favour brief interaction with many acquaintances over the development of fewer but more meaningful relationships. However, to date, there is little research evidence linking social media and loneliness in young people.
We are vulnerable to feel lonely at any point in our lives. The teenage years are a period of many transitions. Young people may leave school, change an apprenticeship or move with their parents, which may result in loss of friends and connections. Once a young person leaves a familiar environment, they may feel lonely if they don’t maintain previous friendships. Also, some young people are still learning the skills to make and keep friendships.
Is loneliness a cause or effect of mental ill-health?
Loneliness can be damaging to both our mental and physical health. Socially isolated people are less able to deal with stressful situation. It can affect their mental health. They are more likely to feel depressed and may have problems processing information. This, in turn, can lead to difficulty with decision making, memory and recall. Anxiety and depression can isolate a person from people. It can stop the person from being able to do the social things he or she likes to do.
Undoubtedly feeling lonely can also have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time. Some researches suggest that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of sleeping problems, alcohol abuse, Alzheimer’s disease and suicide.
Preventing and overcoming loneliness
We can overcome loneliness. It does require a conscious effort on your part to make a change. In the long run, making a change can make you happier, healthier and enable you to impact others around you in a positive way.
What can we do about it?
- Parents or teachers may notice the young person’s mood or behaviour has changed. They may notice their child isolating themselves, going out less often. Speak with the young person, ask them about what the matter is and offer your support.
- Counselling or talking to a psychologist can help them talk things through, support them without making them feel judged.
- Therapy has proven to help people of all ages. Psychologists are trained to talk about loneliness and its impact on a young person’s mental health. Together they can identify strategies to overcome it.
- Encouraging young people to normalise their feelings of loneliness. So feeling lonely is seen not as a weakness but rather as an innate human need to connect.
- Step into your interests, encourage the young person to re-connect with their passions. This is a great way to connect with like-minded people.