Loneliness, Isolation and Mental Health

By Tonny Wandella

Since the dawn of time, loneliness has existed as a phenomenon that we all encounter. Every single one of us experiences it occasionally, and it can happen amid life transitions like the loss of a loved one, a divorce, or a relocation to a new place. Researchers refer to this type of loneliness as reactive loneliness.

Chronic loneliness is more likely to develop when people lack the emotional, mental, or financial resources to get out and meet their social requirements, or when they lack a social circle that can give them these advantages.

Loneliness may occur even when people are surrounded by others—on the subway, in a classroom, or even with their wives and children. Loneliness is not synonymous with intentional isolation or solitude. Rather, loneliness is characterised by people’s degrees of happiness with their connectivity or their perceived social isolation.

Prolonged isolation can have a negative impact on physical and mental health, affecting sleep and dietary patterns and diminishing opportunities for mobility (Cacioppo and Hawkley, 2003). As a result, the natural channels of human expression and enjoyment become depressed, affecting mood and subjective well-being (Nardone and Speciani, 2015).

Those who are lonely may develop harmful behaviours if they do not receive support from family or friends. Loneliness is related to emotions of emptiness, despair, and humiliation, as well as a subjective impression of being cut off from people. It can occur not just in the setting of social isolation, but it can also extend beyond this and be felt even while people are physically present. Loneliness, like social isolation, has been associated with depression, elevated cortisol levels, reduced immunity, and clinical illness, with attendant increases in hospital time and frequency.

Loneliness is more likely to strike elderly persons when they are suffering from functional limitations and have no family support. Loneliness in elderly persons is reduced by increased social engagement and less family tension. Loneliness can cause long-term “fight-or-flight” stress signals, which can impair immune system function. Simply put, persons who are lonely have lower immunity and more inflammation than those who are not.

Everyone’s experience with social isolation is unique, and what works for you may not work for someone else. Keeping a journal and writing about your social experiences may also be beneficial. A therapist may also be a valuable resource, assisting you in working through feelings of isolation and toward a more connected lifestyle. Learn more about improving your memory power by taking our online courseClick here to get started.

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