Loneliness and social isolation are not the same thing, but they often go hand in hand. Loneliness is the subjective feeling of being alone, unwanted or disconnected from others, while social isolation is the objective lack of social contact or support. Both can have serious consequences for mental health and well-being.
According to a recent report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in four Australians reported feeling lonely at least once a week in 2019, and one in six experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues, as lockdowns, restrictions and physical distancing have limited people’s ability to socialise and maintain meaningful relationships.
Who is Most Likely to Experience Loneliness and Social Isolation?
Loneliness and social isolation can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, culture or background. However, some groups may be more vulnerable than others, such as older adults, people living alone, people with disabilities, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people who are unemployed or underemployed, people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and people who identify as LGBTQIA+.
The impacts of loneliness and social isolation on mental health are well-documented. Research has shown that they can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, cognitive decline and dementia. They can also affect physical health, by weakening the immune system, increasing inflammation, raising blood pressure and impairing sleep quality.
Ways to Cope with Loneliness and Social Isolation
Fortunately, there are ways to cope with loneliness and social isolation and to protect your mental health. Here are some tips:
- Seek professional help if you are struggling with your mental health. You can contact your GP, a psychologist, a counsellor or a mental health service for support and advice. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 for crisis support and counselling. Christine Bennett is also able to provide mental health support. Call 0418 226 961
- Stay connected with your family, friends and community. You can use phone calls, video calls, text messages, emails or social media to keep in touch with your loved ones. You can also join online groups or forums that share your interests or hobbies.
- Engage in activities that make you happy and give you a sense of purpose. You can pursue your passions, learn new skills, volunteer for a cause, exercise regularly, meditate, read books, listen to music or watch movies.
- Seek out opportunities to meet new people and expand your social network. You can join a club, a class, a group or an event that aligns with your values and goals. You can also use online platforms or apps that help you find like-minded people in your area.
- Be kind to yourself and others. You can practice self-care by eating well, sleeping well, relaxing and managing stress. You can also show compassion and empathy to others who may be feeling lonely or isolated by reaching out to them, listening to them and offering help.
Loneliness and social isolation are serious challenges that many people face in today’s society. However, they are not insurmountable. By taking steps to improve your social connectedness and well-being, you can overcome loneliness and isolation and enhance your mental health. Remember that you are not alone and that help is available if you need it.
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