Loneliness and the Effect on Mental Health
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
The most recent U.S. census data shows that more than a quarter of the population lives alone – the highest rate ever recorded. Being alone does not necessarily herald loneliness, and living with someone may not stave it off. However, being alone can lend itself to undiagnosed loneliness and its partner, depression. Especially right now, people are spending more time isolated from others than ever before. Many of us, however, live with family members and perhaps communicate with colleagues via video, text, and email. This is not necessarily the case for our seniors. It is important to note that your loved one can be lonely even when they have people coming and going in their life each day. And with short-term memory issues, their perception of how often they see you or other loved ones can be altered so that they are lonely even moments after you’ve left.
Signs of Loneliness
Some of the signs to watch for, both in yourself and in your loved ones, include:
Inability to connect except on a very superficial level
No close or “best” friends
A feeling of isolation, even when in a group
Exhaustion in social situations
A continual feeling of being drained or unmotivated
Types of Loneliness
There are essentially three types of loneliness. Understanding which one is affecting your loved one will go a long way towards knowing how to help.
As our seniors age, they naturally drift apart from social circles they once had. Perhaps they’ve been moved to be closer to you, leaving behind friends and activities. This is a type of loneliness that occurs when you don’t feel a sense of belonging to a group. Even if your parents are still together, there is a need for a wider social circle. Research senior activities in your area, even virtual calls, that might connect them with people outside of their home.
Emotional loneliness can hit those who have lost a partner and feel like they don’t fit into their social circle where others still have their spouses or live-in children. It is a feeling of lack of relationship or attachment. Often it can be felt the worst when your senior wants someone to talk to each day. It can be helpful to reconnect them with same-generation relatives that they might have lost touch with. Even emails and text exchanges can go a long way towards restoring their sense of self.
This is the most intangible of the types. It is generally more of a feeling of not knowing your place in the universe that most of us experience at one time or another. It typically shows its head in times of change when we don’t know what to expect or don’t realize that others are sharing the same life experience. Encourage your loved one to share their thoughts and feelings about aging or set them up with others in their age or medical group.
Source: Psychology Today
Chronic Loneliness Risks
Chronic loneliness can lead to:
Type 2 diabetes
High blood pressure
Mental health and emotional problems
Social isolation increases the risk of early death by 50–84%! The stress of loneliness affects immune system functioning and increases inflammation, precursors to countless more complex medical issues