Most of us take for granted chatting with a loved one over breakfast about the affairs of the coming or preceding day. Others would welcome an opportunity for a brief social encounter, a hug, or a kind word. Unfortunately, there are significant amounts of people in the universe that are struggling with loneliness. The mental health challenges due to loneliness immediately bring depressive issues to mind. Depression is assuredly a disorder of many facets, and loneliness can play a fundamental role in its effects and progression.
Humans are social beings and are not meant to spend their lives alone. However, some of us choose to live independently and spend much time with ourselves. Others may be thrust into aloneness due to life circumstances, such as the death of a partner or divorce. Each situation is different. Too much time alone may make a person susceptible to depressive symptoms, anxiety, loss of appetite, social avoidance, and other mental and physical health concerns.
Loneliness and the Elderly
Seniors are an increasingly populous demographic and more susceptible to feelings of loneliness. As people age, their social network usually decreases due to retirement, illness, disability, and other factors associated with aging. Many older citizens are ill-equipped for the financial stresses related to retirement. As a result, they may not be able to afford to socialize as often as they should.
Studies reveal that because of the growing number of older adults in industrialized countries, the harmful effects of loneliness in the elderly create a public health problem. Equally as disturbing, since the pandemic, housing and rental costs have skyrocketed, forcing some of our elderly into homelessness. Some seniors may feel uncomfortable talking about feeling lonely or depressed, so their loved ones may be unaware.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offers resources and information for the elderly regarding loneliness, depression, and other mental and physical health concerns. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is an excellent resource for veterans’ health and additional retirement-related information.
The Effects of Loneliness on Youth
Some of us do not think of the youth experiencing loneliness as they appear to have others around them all the time. However, a parent aware of their child or adolescent struggling with loneliness knows all too well that it is real. Social media has allowed us to connect to the world, and young people are not strangers to isolating themselves or choosing virtual friendships instead of person-to-person social interaction.
Young adults miss out on relationships and opportunities for happiness and self-fulfillment unavailable to those who internalize and hide away from society. Anxiety, depression, and social anxiety disorders may result from loneliness. Furthermore, a social anxiety disorder may cause one to choose to spend most of their time alone.
Social Anxiety Disorder
A person with a social anxiety disorder may withdraw from friends, loved ones, and society as a whole, and the reasons are many and varied. What causes a person to refrain from social interaction? Withdrawal from public situations may not be from a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder but from a person exhibiting shyness, temporary sadness, or embarrassment. People with a social anxiety disorder may experience unfounded anxiety or fear. They may worry excessively about being judged or humiliated.
Treatment, such as antidepressants and therapy, should come after a diagnosis from a health professional and may aid one’s ability to adjust to social interaction. However, loneliness may be prominent before and during treatment, so family and loved ones’ help and empathy are crucial.
What Can You Do to Help a Lonely Loved One?
It is difficult to observe a loved one experiencing chronic loneliness, especially one who hesitates to discuss their issues or refuses assistance. Approaching someone who appears lonely is also challenging. Most of us do not want to be incorrect and risk embarrassing or humiliating our loved ones.
Perhaps try opening a dialog after doing something together, even just having coffee or a meal. Trust is vital, and even if you have their trust, reinforcing it by not pressuring them may help them to open up more about their feelings. If they decide to confide in you, listen. Offer to help, but be mindful of your promises. Agreeing to something you may not be able to deliver may cause undue stress on both of you. Remember that if you fail to make good on your promises, a lonely person may blame themself for your mistake.
Helping a loved one through anything, especially loneliness, is a delicate balance of respect, love, patience, consistency, and perseverance. If your loved one needs professional help or counseling, approach the dialog with sensitivity and care. You are their lifeline at that moment — possibly for some time — and you are helping someone get their life back on track, a mission well worth the effort.
At SoCal Mental Health, we understand that your mental well-being and recovery are at the core of your success and quality of life. The challenges associated with depression, recovery issues, or relapse can be overwhelming. If you or a loved one are feeling powerless or experiencing depression, other mental health concerns, or recovery issues, know there is help for you. At SoCal Mental Health, we provide supportive treatment for mental health disorders, which enhances well-being and growth. You will meet others and develop relationships with peers and support. Find clarity and peace in knowing you can have the life you want; don’t wait to get help. Call us to learn more about our programs at (949) 502-2041.