Loneliness can have a significant impact on our mental health. For some people, loneliness can lead to depression, anxiety, and even psychosis. Loneliness is often described as a feeling of isolation or emptiness. It can be caused by a lack of social support or by the feeling that we don't fit in with our peers. People who are lonely often feel that they are not understood or appreciated. They may feel that they are the only ones who feel this way. Loneliness can be very damaging to our mental health. It can make us feel sad, anxious, and isolated. It can also lead to depression and psychosis.
Loneliness is a major risk factor for suicide. People who are lonely are more likely to attempt suicide than those who have strong social support networks. Loneliness can also lead to substance abuse. People who are lonely are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs in an attempt to cope with their feelings. Loneliness can be a very difficult emotion to deal with. It can make us feel isolated and alone, even when we are surrounded by people. If you are feeling lonely, it is important to reach out for help. There are many support groups and counseling services available to help you deal with your loneliness.
Who is commonly affected by loneliness?
A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) says that more than one-third of adults 45 and older say they feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of those 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Older adults are more likely to experience factors like living alone, losing family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss.
What are the health risks of loneliness?
There is substantial evidence that many persons aged 50 and older are socially isolated or lonely in ways that endanger their health, despite the fact that it is difficult to evaluate social isolation and loneliness exactly. Recent research revealed that:
- A person's risk of early mortality from any cause increased dramatically when they were socially isolated, and this risk may be comparable to that of smoking, being overweight, and not exercising.
- One study found that social isolation increased dementia risk by roughly 50%.
- Weak social interactions, which are defined by social isolation or loneliness, were linked to a 32% and 29% higher risk of stroke and heart disease, respectively.
- Higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide were linked to loneliness.
- Heart failure patients who reported feeling lonely had mortality risks that were nearly four times higher, hospitalizations were 68% higher, and ER visits were 57% higher.
Why does this happen?
The first people and our hunter-gatherer societies showed us how important healthy relationships are because no one could live alone in these groups. Even now, bonds with caregivers are essential for human survival as infants and throughout childhood. Studies on animals demonstrate that humans are strongly influenced by their social surroundings and that when such bonds are endangered or disrupted, we get quite distressed. Each of us has a unique "social brain network" that oversees our interpersonal interactions and social connections.
It is possible that a comparable mechanism takes place in the human brain. We have discovered that the more sociable they are, the better they are at socializing and the stronger their network is. Even though brain scans have demonstrated that sensations like being ostracized by a group, being excluded, and feeling alone engage the same brain regions that react to physical pain—in order to prepare for danger, this triggers the brain to become hyperalert—it can also produce social thinking mistakes that cause us to misinterpret the information we are presented with. To put it another way, when we're feeling lonely, we could mistakenly interpret the motives of others as dishonest, aggressive, or frightening.
Loneliness has been linked to mental disease, according to studies on social interaction and mental health. Yet there is frequently a self-perpetuating loop: symptoms restrict connections and support, which leads to the loss of those supports as protective factors, which may aggravate symptoms, and so on.
What are the disorders that are aggravated by loneliness?
1. Depression. Depression can result from loneliness, and vice versa. In a sample of more than 40,000 patients with depression, loneliness was shown to be a fairly important predictor in a 2018 study. Loneliness after a breakup, divorce, or loss of a loved one can cause depression.
On the other hand, depression may also cause loneliness, as when someone is depressed, they tend to isolate themselves and refuse all kinds of social interaction. This may lead to them losing their relationships, which may then trigger feelings of loneliness.
2. Social Anxiety. When loneliness is accompanied by difficulty meeting new people or initiating conversation, social anxiety may be to blame. Similar to depression, loneliness can be both a symptom and a cause of social anxiety. When anxiety results in isolation, a person's anxieties may intensify, and the solitude may make them feel even more anxious. For those who suffer from social anxiety disorder, this connection might turn into a deadly trap.
It's not always true that those who struggle with social anxiety wish to be alone themselves. Most people only wish to avoid the anxiety that comes with social contact. They must stop carrying the burden of their anxieties. Even if a person has never before shown signs of social anxiety, living alone might tip the scales if they start to feel lonely, unsure of other people's intentions and behaviors, and uncomfortable with their own social skills. Individuals who struggle with social anxiety may start to feel isolated because they are unlikable by nature. When a person experiences social isolation, they also experience emotional isolation, and they are left with nothing but their own anxious thoughts to help them cope with their problems.
3. Addiction. The effects of loneliness on the body and psyche are quite significant. Serious loneliness has negative health implications for the immune system, sleep, and arthritis, among other things. Moreover, loneliness might influence unhealthful dietary and beverage habits. Last but not least, it may result in increased use of addictive substances, including cigarettes, alcohol, and hard narcotics.
Addiction to drugs and loneliness have the potential to spiral out of control. People may abuse drugs or alcohol when they feel alone, misunderstood, or unwanted. They use this to divert their attention or stop feeling the pain of loneliness. Moreover, their use of drugs or alcohol may also further distance them from the people in their lives. Resentment, fear, and mistrust may be sown in their relationships as a result of the addiction itself as well as the monetary, legal, and personal issues that accompany it. Hence, the quick fix of drug misuse that many look for to get rid of their loneliness will have failed. It's conceivable that their use of drugs or alcohol makes them feel even more alone than before.
What action should be taken if you experience loneliness?
There is no one answer to this question, as everyone experiences loneliness differently and may need different things in order to feel better. However, some things that may help include reaching out to friends and family, participating in activities that you enjoy, and seeking professional help if the loneliness is proving to be too much to handle on your own.
Those who are experiencing the negative impacts of social isolation should be aware of their symptoms and seek professional assistance if they worsen or continue. Therapists can assist by examining the underlying causes of isolation or self-isolation. For instance, social isolation might be an indication of depression or anxiety.
If you are experiencing intense waves of loneliness and you feel that it is worsening or may be having an impact on your daily function, please do not hesitate to contact us for assistance. To help us get to know you better, please complete this quick assessment and verify your insurance.