Should You Get Mental Health Help for Loneliness

Should You Get Mental Health Help for Loneliness?

It is human to feel lonely, but that does not make it something to endure silently.

Loneliness is a challenging emotional response, that can hit people in a variety of situations – including when surrounded by loving friends and family, but seeking mental health help offers a pathway to understanding, support, and healing.


Feelings of loneliness have become a lot more common worldwide since the Covid-19 pandemic started in 2020. A combination of isolated living and rising internet activity has seen people increasingly feel less connected to others 


While short-term loneliness can lead to feelings of distress and exhaustion, long-term, frequent experiences of loneliness are potential markers for other mental health struggles and illnesses. This makes loneliness a mental health concern itself. 


What is the difference between loneliness, social isolation and being alone?


Society places a lot of value on participation, community, and extroversion. Because of those norms, people coping with loneliness are often stigmatised as ‘friendless’ or ‘alone.’ This can cause confusion as to whether we’re feeling lonely, experiencing social isolation, or simply being alone. But these are all distinct experiences.


Social isolation is a lack of social connection with others. This might develop due to a variety of reasons, such as a minority identity, mental health concerns, s, feeling misunderstood or excluded by social groups, drastic changes in life circumstances, like moving to a new location, and coping with mental distress.


Loneliness is a perceived form of social isolation. While social isolation does lead to loneliness, people can also feel lonely when they have frequent social interactions. 


Finally, being alone is often a conscious choice that people make to recharge, reflect, and sit with their thoughts and emotions. Taking time away from social interactions can be a calming experience and help people understand themselves better. We all need alone time, in different amounts. Some people require more or less solitude than others.


How to tell if you are lonely? 


Feelings of loneliness can manifest in several ways. And sometimes, other emotions can get in the way of us understanding our loneliness. Other times, we may not connect our emotions to our perception of isolation. Here are some examples of feelings and states that may be influenced by loneliness. 


  • Feeling like you cannot be yourself around friends and family 
  • Feeling like you have no one to talk to about your problems
  • Feeling like no one understands you
  • Feeling like you cannot have intimate conversations with people
  • Feeling like no one trusts you or comes to you for help with problems 
  • Feeling melancholy or low on a frequent/daily basis
  • Feeling like you have no close friends or that everyone is an acquaintance
  • Feeling sick/weak often, as if your immune system is not working
  • Coping with compulsive, unhealthy habits, such as frequent shopping, bingeing food or TV shows, long hours of gaming, and/or frequent porn consumption
  • Coping with substances like alcohol, cigarettes, and/or other drugs 

Who is at risk for loneliness?


While loneliness is a human emotion that everyone feels, some groups of people are more likely to develop it or experience it more deeply than others. This includes:

  • Marginalised people in majority spaces: Be it a woman leader in a male-heavy workspace or a queer child in school, people with marginalised identities find it harder to feel understood in spaces filled with majority populations, which can lead to loneliness.
  • People with mental health struggles: Often, people with poor mental health feel stigmatised if they do not ‘mask’ or pretend to be ‘okay’. Covering up their real selves in social spaces can lead to loneliness. Other times, mental health struggles can contribute directly to feelings of loneliness, when it feels like everyone else is calm or happy and no one understands what we’re going through.
  • People coping with crises: Dealing with sudden, complex issues like the poor health or death of a family member, a divorce, or legal or financial troubles can make people feel lonely and misunderstood.
  • Older people: Senior citizens are more likely to feel lonely because they often live alone, deal with chronic illnesses, and deal with the loss of partners and peers.
  • People with chronic illness: People living with chronic illness may feel lonely because they may be unable to keep up with their peers during work or social interactions. On top of this, they may also face stigma for their different pace and needs, causing them to feel even more isolated.

How can loneliness harm people?


Loneliness is a negative feeling or a form of ‘social pain.’ In 2016, UCLA researchers found that loneliness can also lead to severe physical pain. Beyond emotional and physical pain, loneliness is also known to negatively affect mental, and cognitive health. Here are some ways in which loneliness can impact health.

  • Physical health: Loneliness is linked to a higher risk of premature death from health issues, weakened immune system, poor heart health, poor sleep, weight gain/obesity, stroke, etc. 

  • Mental health: Loneliness is linked to an increased risk of general stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and more.

  • Cognitive health: Loneliness over time leads to a greater risk of developing dementia and a decline in memory, verbal fluency, problem-solving, decision-making, focus, etc

  • Emotional health: Overall, loneliness is a negative feeling that paves the way for poor mood and less joy in day-to-day life.

Can therapy help with loneliness?


Since loneliness places people at risk for mental health problems, speaking to a therapist can be seen as a form of preventative care. These are the several ways that therapy can help hold off loneliness’s more severe effects. 


  • Learning trust

    A patient and a psychologist working together is a professional relationship. In this space, the patient can learn how to re-develop trust and confidence for social interactions with others outside the therapy space.

  • Seeking the root of the problem

    Therapists are trained to guide patients towards the crux of the distress they face. With multiple conversations, homework and exercises, patients will learn the core cause of their loneliness, enabling them to then transition to effective problem-solving.
  • Building tools for mental health

    With therapy, whether in-person or digital, patients learn ways to combat feelings of loneliness ranging from grounding exercises, reframing negative internal thoughts, and breaking patterns that cause loneliness.

Humans are a social species, which means human well-being depends on fulfilling social relationships. Loneliness robs many of the joy of a healthy social life Speaking to a therapist early can help prevent severe loneliness from morphing into a chronic mental illness like clinical depression or anxiety. Though it is hard to reach out and seek help when feeling lonely, early attention can prevent days of distress and isolation. 

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