The deadly truth about loneliness – BY DR MICHELLE H LIM MAPS

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The quality of relationships is more important than the quantity when it comes to loneliness, and health researchers are paying increasingly close attention to the mental health implications

Loneliness is not just about whether there are people around.

  • Almost all of us have experienced loneliness at some point.
  • It is the pain we have felt following a breakup, perhaps the loss of a loved one, or a move away from home.
  • We are vulnerable to feeling lonely at any point in our lives.

Loneliness is commonly used to describe a negative emotional state experienced when there is a difference between the relationships one wishes to have and those one perceives one has.

The unpleasant feelings of loneliness are subjective; researchers have found loneliness is not about the amount of time one spends with other people or alone. It is related more to quality of relationships, rather than quantity. A lonely person feels that he or she is not understood by others, and may not think they hold meaningful relationships.

For some people, loneliness may be temporary and easily relieved. For others, loneliness cannot be easily resolved and can persist when one does not have access to people to connect with.

loneliness can be seen as a signal to connect with others. 

In affluent modern societies, loneliness has become more difficult – particularly for those who are not surrounded by people who care for them

Loneliness is a risk factor for many physical health difficulties

Some individuals may also be biologically vulnerable to feeling lonely. Evidence from twin studies found that loneliness may be partly heritable.

Loneliness has largely been ignored as a condition of concern in mental health.  Most studies of loneliness and mental health have focused solely on how loneliness relates to depression.

Although loneliness and depression are partly related, they are different. Loneliness refers specifically to negative feelings about the social world, whereas depression refers to a more general set of negative feelings.

In a study that measured loneliness in older adults over a five-year period, loneliness predicted depression, but the reverse was not true.

Addressing loneliness

Loneliness may be mistaken as a depressive symptom, or perhaps it is assumed that loneliness will go away once depressive symptoms are addressed. Generally, “lonely” people are encouraged to join a group or make a new friend, on the assumption that loneliness will then simply go away.

While creating opportunities to connect with others provides a platform for social interaction, relieving the social pain is not so straightforward. Lonely people can have misgivings about social situations and as a result show rejecting behaviours. These can be misconstrued as unfriendliness, and people around the lonely person respond accordingly. This is how loneliness can become a persistent cycle.

A study examined the effectiveness of different types of treatments aimed at addressing loneliness. The results indicated that treatments that focused on changing negative thinking about others were more effective than those that provided opportunities for social interaction.

Another promising way to tackle loneliness is to improve the quality of our relationships, specifically by building intimacy with those around us.

We continue to underestimate the lethality of loneliness as a serious public health issue. Contemporary tools such as social media, while seeming to promote social connection, favour brief interactions with many acquaintances over the development of fewer but more meaningful relationships. In this climate, the challenge is to address loneliness and focus on building significant bonds with those around us.

Source: APS FB – full article here @ https://psychweek.org.au/2018/the-deadly-truth-about-loneliness/?fbclid=IwAR1b9llEu0fpp-xJcSVjj94oNC6PRAZTx6Kv39LU3u7bQapUH4W8JlHVfto

Dr Michelle H. Lim MAPS is currently conducting research into loneliness and the health and wellbeing of Australians. Take part here.

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