When you think about lonely people who comes to mind? Elderly people who have lost their loved one? Middle-aged women whose kids have flown the nest? But what about the 23-year-old who doesn’t know who to turn to in times of need, or the 18-year-old who’s just started university? They’re in the prime of their lives so there’s no way that they could possibly be lonely, right?
According to a study by the Office for National Statistics it’s actually young people aged between 16-24 who reported feeling lonely pretty much all the time compared to other age groups. I think that’s a pretty shocking result and it says a lot about the society we live in today.
Why are young people more likely to be lonely?
This isn’t scientific; I’ve researched this topic online and got the general feel from online forums etc but *goes back to my days as a psychology student* qualitative data can give us a good insight into why something is like it is but it is, never-the-less, all based on opinion and interpretation. I’ve also included my own opinions in here which are based on my interpretations and experiences. If you disagree feel free to leave a comment and let’s have a discussion!
- Social media:Apps like Instagram are all about showing off the very best bits of your life in order to gain the most likes and followers. Yes, stories have made it easier to incorporate the shitty bits of life (but even they’re becoming too polished thanks to apps like Unfold) but nobody really shows off the rawness and horribleness of the bad days. We can write as many articles and blog posts about how Instagram isn’t real or how nobody’s life is like their Instagram feed but when we’re in an Instagram hole, spending hours scrolling through perfect pictures of skinny girls in bikinis on tropical islands, drinking smoothies, and sponsored posts by high-end fashion companies we’re not thinking about how those people are probably not living like this 24/7. We’re feeling the pang of jealousy as we look around at ourselves alone in our messy bedroom and we’re wishing that was us. Our emotions often win over logic and we’re assuming that these fit Instagram models have far better lives than we do and we ever will. Yet we still scroll and we still follow these accounts and we end up feeling sadder, lonelier and more wishful and the cycle continues.
- Other people’s selfishness: I don’t mean selfish to sound mean but it’s true that more and more people are only interested in looking after themselves – and that’s fine because obviously you need to look after yourself and live the life that’s right for you, but what happens when you or those around you realise they can’t cope on their own anymore? Who do they turn to? I think this is especially true of younger generations as there’s such a huge emphasis on looking after number one and living life on your terms that it doesn’t leave much room for thinking about other people and putting yourself in their shoes. But if everyone is becoming their own one-man band then that leaves everyone incredibly isolated. Despite many people feeling the same way nobody wants to stop to think about other people because they feel like they should always be thinking about their own lives and how to progress or get to where they need to be. Which leads me on to the next point…
- Guilt about opening up: Due to this huge emphasis on being more selfish people can feel like they are being a burden and slowing other people down if they open up about their struggles and their worries. Despite the fact that we are becoming more accustomed to opening up about mental health issues we still feel shameful about off-loading our problems to friends and family. Not only this but, as we should be focusing on bettering ourselves and making our lives the best they can be, admitting that we are struggling to do that and need somebody else by our sides to guide or support us can be very difficult. In my experience it makes you feel ashamed of yourself for not being able to make a success of yourself or be as independent as everyone else seems to be. This leads to people bottling up their feelings and feeling like they have nobody to turn to.
- Not feeling like you belong: Young people seem to move around more than previous generations. They grow up in one town, go to uni in another, travel around different continents for months/years at a time, then settle in a completely different town to the one they grew up in for work. This can lead to a sense of not fitting in anywhere, it can make keeping in touch with old friends difficult and it can be harder to find groups of people to befriend in an entirely new place as a working adult. This makes people feel like they don’t belong anywhere and they don’t have anyone to turn to when they’re feeling lonely.
Is loneliness a mental health disorder?
Loneliness is often linked to mental illness like depression and anxiety and, whilst it isn’t technically a mental illness, I think it should be spoken about it the same way. As a society we are getting better at talking about the mental illnesses that the majority of people are ‘comfortable’ with (I.e depression and anxiety) but there’s still a long way to go for others (schizophrenia, bipolar, personality disorder). Young person loneliness definitely fits into that second category.
When governments or researchers look at loneliness, and when charities and organisations look at how we can tackle it, they tend to focus on the elderly. There’s a great campaign simply called ‘The Campaign To End Loneliness‘ which aims to encourage people to look out for their elderly neighbours and start thinking about the older people they know who may be lonely. I think this is great and I don’t want to take away from that but wouldn’t it be great if there was more to highlight the fact that anyone can be lonely? I think younger people have gotten into terrible habits of ignoring people around them and assuming everyone else is fine when, actually, many of us seem to be in the same boat when it comes to loneliness, isolation and feelings of inadequacy.
What can we do to tackle loneliness?
- Get in touch with friends you may not have spoken to as much just lately: Let them know that you’re thinking about them and that they still have you as a friend. If they see you doing that then they’re more likely to do the same for you after another long period of not seeing each other.
- Be more open about our experiences: People, younger people especially, are so reluctant to admit that they’re lonely and struggling because it’s still seen as a bit of a weakness. If more people were open and honest about their struggles then other people will be inspired by them to open up and thus creating a snowball effect. It also reduces the stigma attached and makes people, whether they’re lonely or not, more comfortable with discussing the subject.
- Log out of social media: Social media is, in some ways, a god send, especially for those of us who maybe don’t live near our real-life friends or who are too anxious to put ourselves out there and meet people in the real world. It allows us to stay connected, meet people like us, and share our thoughts. But sometimes social media is the worst thing ever invented. As mentioned above it’s often too filtered and it’s too easy for people to be nasty when they have the safety of a computer screen and hundreds of miles between them and the person on the end of their horrid tweet. Despite it’s good qualities social media can lead to more loneliness, more isolation and much lower self-esteem so it’s good to limit your daily usage, turn of notifications or just switch off completely for certain lengths of time.
- Join groups in real life: In a world that’s relying on the internet more and more it’s good to be passionate about something that doesn’t involve a computer or a digital screen. Also, joining clubs dedicated to your passion is a good way to make friends.
- Go to counselling: Knowing that you have at least one person who you can open up to and be completely honest about your feelings is such a mood booster. If there’s nobody else you can turn to at least you know your counsellor will be there one day a week to listen to your concerns. What’s more is, they can help you in ways that you may not be able to do yourself by helping you change your thoughts or find underlying causes which has led to your loneliness.
Important things to note:
I think an important thing to keep in mind about loneliness is that just because people are alone a lot doesn’t mean they are lonely and, probably more important than that, just because a person seems to have lots of friends and they look like they have a ‘perfect’ life doesn’t mean they are not lonely. You can be in a room full of people and still be incredibly lonely. The key to people becoming less lonely is having people they know they can turn to and talk about their feelings with. It’s important to show lonely people that they are loved and don’t have to bottle things up inside their heads.
Not having good friends, not seeing people for long periods of time, living inside your head and feelings like you should have your life more together by now are all big contributors to loneliness. Aim to be a person who changes all that for people. If you’re 16-24 chances are you know someone your age who is lonely. Reach out to your friends because you never know who might need you.
Resources to turn to if you’re struggling with Loneliness:
- This article from Mind about how to cope with loneliness
- Samaritans (they have an email if you can’t face a phone call but the phone call is the only instant help they can offer)
- 7 Cups Of Tea – I have used this online help site when I was younger and it helped me so much. You can just chat to listeners who specialise in whatever it is you’re struggling with.
- Counselling Directory allows you to search their website and find a counsellor near to where you live (UK only)
I know this is long but thanks for sticking around if you’ve made it this far! I think this is such an important topic that needs to be spoken about more. If you have anything to add or would like to share your story please feel free to leave a comment.
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