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Impact of Loneliness on Depression and Mental Health

One of the first things a therapist checks out with a client when they sit in front of them, regardless of what brought them there, is what support network they have – do they have a relationship with their family, do they have good friends, are they in a romantic relationship. Why? Because loneliness has a negative impact on our mental health. Humans are relational beings, meaning we enjoy company no matter how shy or introverted we think we are. So when we feel isolated or separated from our peers or family or whoever matters to us, it can make a bad situation feel worse.

Loneliness is not an uncommon feeling and is completely normal in many situations such as:

  • Moving out of the family home

  • Moving to a new place

  • Being bereaved

  • Struggling with physical or mental health problems

  • Feeling bullied

  • Breakdown of a relationship or friendships

  • Having financial problems or being unemployed

While it causes very physical feelings, loneliness is actually a state of mind and is defined as feeling lonely more than once a week. It is also a very personal thing – loneliness to one person might mean not seeing anyone for 24 hours and/or having no contact over social media, texts or calls. To another it might mean being isolated for days or weeks at a time and perhaps by choice. All that really matters is the feeling you have. We can be lonely in a crowded room, for example, or feel like no one around us has experienced the same amount of loss or trauma as us so this makes us perceive we are different and alone.

Loneliness crosses all borders too – it doesn’t matter your gender, sexuality, age, skin colour, financial standing, etc, we can all experience this deeply upsetting feeling. However, it seems more common in older people than any other age group as they are more at risk due to living in care homes away from family and friends or having lost their partners and friends. More recently it is becoming clear that many people face isolation in this fast paced world. In a 2018 study it was found that nearly half of American adults surveyed sometimes or always feel lonely. In the UK they have a Minister for Loneliness, indicating how prevalent it is in today’s society when we are arguably more ‘connected’ than ever.

How Does Feeling Lonely Affect Us

Apart from the obvious sadness that comes with feeling lonely it can also have an impact on our dependancy on crutches such as smoking, alcohol, drugs or food. At times these crutches could be used out of boredom or because we lack the positive encouragement from friends or family to quit. They could also be used more frequently to cover up how the loneliness is affecting our mental health.

Usually, when we feel lonely we tend to move towards the edge of our social supports as well. Sometimes we do this because we feel too sad to interact, thus isolating our friends and family in the process leading them to feel lonely too. Loneliness can be contagious in that way. So why do we do the thing that is the least helpful in this scenario?

It all comes back to mental health. When we feel sad or low, our self esteem can take a hit. When we don’t feel good about ourselves we hide away from others, we start to doubt ourselves, we get anxious and stop feeling as positive as we did before. Then we might think, ‘I wouldn’t want to spend any time with me right now, so I’m not going to force that on anyone else’, even though what we actually need is connection and to talk to someone about how bad our day was.

Loneliness can feel a lot like depression and vice versa. In fact one might trigger the other in some situations – you feel depressed so you isolate yourself and then feel lonely as a consequence or you feel lonely and you become incredibly low as a result. Or they might just happen simultaneously. Either way isolation and loneliness takes a toll on your mental health and wellbeing.

What Can I do if I Feel Lonely

While the answer might be obvious, connect with someone, it can also be the most difficult thing to do when you feel this way. Social connectedness is not only the cure for loneliness, it’s also key in the prevention of it. When we have a strong group of friends or are close to our families we feel more secure and confident. Having this support means we feel even if we’re grumpy or make a bad decision we have people to turn to and seek comfort or advice from which makes all the tough times not as bad as they could be.

Be sure to foster any and all connections you have if not only for this reason but also for how it benefits your resilience as well. Resilience is that thing that people talk about a lot, the thing that makes us bounce back from adversity and keep going, thing that mindfulness can improve. Well luckily, having friends and family to encourage you to keep going can also nurture resilience and resilience plays a key role in coping with mental health difficulties.

While it’s nice to have friends that you run with, friends that you have coffee with and friends you know only through social media – be sure to nurture friendships that are meaningful and positive too



What if you’re just not that close to your family, or you don’t have friends where you live? Consider volunteering or joining a class, whether it’s educational, for exercise or just for fun. It can be tough to make friends as an adult and you might be nervous about making new friends, but chances are everyone around you feels the same. So just be friendly and say hi!

As the saying goes; quality over quantity. While it’s nice to have friends that you run with, friends that you have coffee with and friends you know only through social media – be sure to nurture friendships that are meaningful and positive too. It’s ok to have loads of different friend circles but it’s important to have friends that you can trust for advice to support when you need it too.

Now What?

In short, feeling lonely can be an indicator that things are not quite right whether it’s triggered by your mental health, your social connections or a life event. Be sure to see this sign for what it is, an opportunity to see your loved ones more often and to work on building quality relationships. If you think you might be struggling with loneliness, depression or you want to work on your resilience you can make an appointment here.

Written by Clare O’Brien

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