You may have heard the phrase ‘no man is an island’. This means that people need each other to survive in a healthy manner, as when they are isolated from society they do not function at their best. However, when they are part of a community, they are more likely to thrive. Research has shown that having social relationships has a positive effect on physical and mental health. Social support may have indirect effects on health through enhanced mental health, by reducing the impact of stress, or by fostering a sense of meaning and purpose in life (Umberson & Montez, 2010).
Loneliness has been defined as a state of solitude or being alone. It needs to be noted that loneliness does not necessarily mean that a person is in the absence of other people. Sometimes people express that although they are surrounded by other people, they still feel lonely. For example, although a person is in a relationship, they can still feel lonely because there is not a deep connection with the other person. Loneliness has negative connotations associated with it and a person who is feeling lonely will frequently feel sad. There is a difference between solitude and loneliness whereby in solitude a person chooses to be on their own. Solitude can be enjoyed by people as it leads to creativity, self-realization, and an approach to develop one’s own space.
People can feel lonely when they desire more interpersonal relationships which create social connectedness. Rather than the number of relationships a person has that determines whether a person feels lonely or not, it is the reactions that they have in relation to those connections. For example, if a person feels that his/her friends are not supportive or that they cannot be trusted, it can make the person feel lonely even though they have friends. Sometimes, a person may also feel lonely and sad if they are feeling depressed.
In order to deal with loneliness, it is suggested that a person increases their interactions with other people and invest in creating meaningful connections. Some people may need help to develop social skills which can be lacking and therefore this would be the reason why the person is struggling to create and sustain relationships. Others may lack the opportunities to interact with others and once such social opportunities are provided, they will feel better. It may also be helpful to work with a therapist to address any negative thoughts and feelings associated with loneliness and process such experiences to grow psychologically.
Dr Marilyn Muscat is registered as an Educational Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council in the United Kingdom where she trained. She works with children, adolescents and their families to understand more about educational, social and emotional well-being concerns that they have and to help them improve upon their difficulties. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.
Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(Suppl), S54–S66. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501