Young, lonely and at risk of mental illness
With smartphones, Skype and social networks you’d think we’d be more connected than ever. But, for all this technology, it seems we’re becoming lonelier.
Britons are the loneliest in Europe
In June the Office for National Statistics discovered that Britons are the loneliest people in Europe. Only 58% of us feel connected to people in our community, and one in eight of us don’t have someone close we could rely on in a personal crisis.
It has been long acknowledged that loneliness can be a problem for elderly people. But over recent years studies have shown that younger people can be seriously affected. In 2010 the Mental Health Foundation found that people between the ages of 18 and 34 were more likely to feel lonely often, and to feel depressed because of loneliness, than the over-55s. Evidence shows that loneliness can be very damaging to mental health and wellbeing; contributing to increased stress, depression, paranoia, anxiety, dementia, addiction and suicide.
What help is available?
What can help someone who’s distressed because of their loneliness? Dr Hamilton McBrien, Medical Director and Child and Adolescent Consultant Psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital, North London explains:
Loneliness can affect you both physically and mentally, and therefore it is important to attend to all aspects of your health. Don’t be afraid to speak to someone to tell them that you are lonely. Often there is a feeling of shame and a fear of further rejection if you admit that you are lonely. There are many organisations that support loneliness, and organise meetings and activities to give people the opportunity to meet others and build a network within their own community. These can often be found on the internet, and have identified people that you can meet individually first if the idea of meeting a lot of people at once is too terrifying. They can help you find activities that you enjoy or feel comfortable doing in front of others. Even if it’s only a cup of tea, this is a great start!
Schools often have many out of school clubs and groups which can be a great way of building friendships with people with similar interests. They also often run holiday clubs. There are many voluntary organisations looking for volunteers, and that is a great way to meet like-minded people.
If you are too anxious to meet people, then talk to your GP about obtaining some counselling and possibly medication, particularly if you are suffering from impairing social anxiety. Remember to smile even when it feels hard, and don’t give up. Make every contact count.