Loneliness is a Mental and Physical Health Issue

At times, every human being has experienced bouts of loneliness.  Loneliness is longing and distress about not feeling emotionally connected to others.  Quite simply:  being lonely doesn’t feel good.  Feelings of loneliness are connected to feeling sad, depressed, and socially isolated.  More specifically, loneliness can occur when we feel left out, forgotten about, and/or lack companionship.

Loneliness vs. Being Alone

One can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely.  There is a common misperception that being alone equates to loneliness but that is not true.  People feel lonely when their relations are superficial and lack authenticity and genuineness.  These are key features to feeling emotionally connected to others.  When you feel that the people closest to you care about you, value you, and understand you, you tend not to feel lonely.

Why Care About Loneliness?

Here is why we should care about long-lasting loneliness.  Research has demonstrated that chronic feelings of loneliness can lead to an increase in heart disease, a decreased immune response, an increased risk of some cancers and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as increased levels of stress hormones in the body.

In 2018, the UK government appointed a Loneliness Minister, Tracey Crouch to develop initiatives to combat the UK loneliness epidemic.  Loneliness is now considered a UK public health crisis.

Loneliness Stigma

There is a stigma to admitting that one feels lonely, even though it is part of the human experience to feel lonely from time to time.  People who may experience loneliness see it as a sign of weakness, which is unfortunate because these thoughts generally makes one feel worse.

How to Deal with Loneliness?

  1. Recognize that you are not alone.  All human beings have felt lonely at one time or another.
  2. Reach out to others and stay emotionally connected to them. 
  3. Respond affirmatively to others’ invitations to connect.
  4. Actively seek out opportunities to join things that connect you to people.
  5. Try to deepen your relationships with others.  Appropriate self-disclosure, listening, and validating your friends’/family members’ experiences can go a long way to deepening your current relationships.
  6. Volunteer for organizations that need your help.  This is a great way to do good in the world and connect with others who share your desire to help others.

About Dr. Katherine Helm

Katherine is a Chicagoland native, professor, and psychologist who enthusiastically wants to help people have strong mental health and healthy, fulfilling relationships. Katherine is a licensed psychologist with over 24 years of experience working with adolescents, adults, couples and groups in multiple clinical settings including college counseling, psychiatric hospitals, community mental health, and private practice. She has authored multiple books on working with couples, sex education for high school and college students, and mental health issues in the African American community. Currently, she is the Director of a Clinical Mental Health Graduate Programs for Lewis University. You can learn more about her areas of expertise at: drkhelmconsulting.com

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