Do you feel alone? Do you struggle to communicate with others?
17% of older people are in contact with their family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact less than once a month (Victor et al 2003). Over half (51%) of people over the age of 75 live alone (ONS, 2010). Two fifths of older people say that the television is their main company, this is around a staggering 3.9 billion people (Age UK, 2014)! Loneliness however can affect all ages; it is caused by a lack of social connections. This is known to be harmful to our health and can be comparable to a risk factor of early death such as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It is also stated that loneliness effects out health more than obesity and physical inactivity.
There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. To be sat in a room by yourself may mean you’re alone but not necessarily lonely whereas on the other hand you could be in a room full of people and still feel lonely because you don’t know how to communicate and engage in conversation with others. Loneliness is never a good thing, especially this time of year. Christmas is a time for family, friends and celebration, nobody should have to spend their day alone feeling lonely.
One study concludes that lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia. It is also known that lonely people are more prone to depression. Many people are alone at Christmas time from the elderly to the homeless. There are charities such as the Salvation Army who take people in on Christmas and serve them meals, give them warmth and somebody to talk to who is in the same boat they may be.
What exactly is loneliness?
As stated earlier, loneliness is not the same as being alone, you may choose to be alone and live a happy life without much contact with other people. On the other hand, you may have lots of social contact, be in a relationship or part of a family but still feel lonely. It can have a significant effect on your mental health, it contributes to mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. People often feel lonely because of their personal circumstances but other times loneliness can be a lot deeper and more of a constant feeling from within.
A person’s lifestyle and their daily life stress’ make them vulnerable to feeling lonely, situations such as the following;
- Loss of a partner/family/someone close to you
- Being a single parent/carer – finding it hard to have a social life
- A break-up in relations i.e. divorce
- Elderly age, finding it hard to leave your home alone
- Experiencing racism or discrimination i.e. skin colour, disability
- Experienced physical or sexual abuse – find it hard to trust and form relationships with people
- Moved to a new area with no friends or family
- Recently retired and find it hard to maintain the social relations you had at work
- Social activities are not available to you i.e. because of money problems
As mentioned earlier, some forms of loneliness are deeper, this kind of loneliness can be caused by not liking yourself or thinking that others will not like you. This relates to lacking in self-confidence, this can all be caused by feeling unloved as a child so that when you grow to an adult you believe you are unlovable in all types of relationships. Other can isolate themselves from relationships as they are scared of getting hurt, they may do this consciously or unconsciously.
My experiences of loneliness
When I was younger I always used to feel alone. This is because I was very shy, to the point I would scream and cry not to leave the house to go to school as I didn’t want to be around people. I would just sit in my room alone playing on my play station 2, quiet not communicating with anybody. This began to take over my life as when spoken to I would just hide behind my mom with a red face and sweat pouring from me because of nerves. I felt as if nobody at school would like me which made me not want to go. This also led to me feeling depressed as I thought I would have no friends and have nobody to play with. I remember one day I went to school once I was starting to get used to it, I was in music class and the teacher asked me to play a sequence on the key board, I tried to do this and failing but the teacher continued to put pressure on me making me try over and over to which I kept failing. It got to the point where I broke down in tears thinking everyone was laughing at me again making me feel isolated and alone. I eventually started to ‘come out of my shell’ as I met my best friend at the time David who introduced me to his group of friends. At first I was still shy and struggled to communicate with them all but the longer I was around them the more they made me feel like a friend and I could get involved more. From there I began to feel less alone, I went out playing instead of sitting alone. At the time I saw no way out and felt I would never have no friends but it goes to show there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Loneliness is my least favourite thing about life. The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me.”
– Anne Hathaway
“At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one’s lost self.”
– Brendan Behan