Loneliness & Social Isolation


What is loneliness?

Loneliness is an unpleasant and distressing emotion experienced due to the lack of companionship or as a result of social isolation.  Loneliness is a very real and damaging feeling suffered by people of all ages.

“Feeling lonely is like being thrown in at the deep end with no one to save you”  Respond! – Resident 2015

“Solitude expresses the glory of being alone, whereas loneliness expresses the pain of feeling alone” Tillich 1959

“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody.” Mother Teresa.

Who suffers?

Anyone of any age can suffer the effects of loneliness and isolation.  People in these groups may feel particularly vulnerable:

  • Students
  • New Mums and Dads
  • Single/Divorced
  • People Working from Home
  • Retired People
  • Carers
  • People with Career Focussed Lives
  • People From MinorityGroups
  • Socially Excluded
  • Bereavement
  • Disability
  • Disease
  • Anyone!

Feelings of loneliness and social isolation can be felt when you are among family and friends or in a crowd.

Higher levels of loneliness can be associated with:

  • Living alone
  • Infrequent contact with family and friends
  • Physical/Mental health symptoms
  • Chronic work or social stress
  • Marital/family conflict
  • Poor quality social relationships
What are the effects?
  • Adverse feelings – separateness, alienation, distress and isolation
  • Poor mental and physical health
  • Adverse physical and mental outcomes
  • Increased anxiety and social withdraw
  • Increased unease – dissatisfaction with life
  • Increased levels of depression
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Increased risk of: high blood pressure, cognitive decline, dementia, susceptibility to viruses
  • Higher quantity of medications and A&E use
  • Declined quality of life.
  • Feelings of self-harm and/or suicide

How is loneliness a health issue?

With an increased amount of evidence emerging into the effects of loneliness and isolation, loneliness is quickly becoming a public health concern

  • 10% of the population aged 65 or over are often or always lonely
  • ½ of all older people (over 5 million) say their television is their main company
  • 17% of older people are in contact with friends, family and neighbors less than once a week
  • 18 to 34 year olds were more likely to feel lonely than the over 55’s – Mental Health Foundation 2010
  • Loneliness poses an equivalent risk for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Loneliness is linked to the development of depression, poor recovery from illness, psychological distress and suicidal behaviours
  • Preventing and alleviating loneliness helps older people to remain more independent
  • 76% of GP’s report 1-5 patients a day come into their surgery because they are lonely
  • Research in Cornwall and Devon found a third of patients admitted to A&E had very infrequent meaningful social interactions – less than once a month, or never

Credit: Sabina Brennan, Trinity College Dublin, Marcus Rand Director, Campaign to End Loneliness – Connections in Older Age

Where to get help:

  • http://www.samaritans.org/  –  did you know that there’s a Samaritans branch on Cromwell Street in Stornoway.  They are there to provide emotional support to anyone in distress or despairing or feeling suicidal.  They offer a face to face drop in on Fridays 11am – 2pm.  Out with these times please telephone the national free telephone number 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • https://www.samh.org.uk/ the Scottish Association for Mental Health