What is Loneliness and Social Isolation?

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Loneliness can be referred to as the unwelcome feeling we can experience when there is a mismatch between the social relationships we have and those that we would like to have i.e we feel that there is something missing or lacking in the quality of our social relations.

Indeed, it’s the quality and closeness of our social interactions that matter to us as human beings, which is why there is some truth in the saying that “you can still feel lonely in a crowd”. If there is no feeling of connectedness and sense of belonging with those around us then it is likely that we may still feel lonely.

Types of loneliness


Loneliness can be referred to as the unwelcome feeling we can experience when there is a mismatch between the social relationships we have and those that we would like to have i.e we feel that there is something missing or lacking in the quality of our social relations.


Indeed, it’s the quality and closeness of our social interactions that matter to us as human beings, which is why there is some truth in the saying that “you can still feel lonely in a crowd”.

If there is no feeling of connectedness and sense of belonging with those around us then it is likely that we may still feel lonely.

Here are some definitions of the main types of loneliness.


1. Transient Loneliness


This is defined as brief and occasional lonely moods. These periods of loneliness tend to be only short lived or temporary and can be more easily addressed.


2. Transitional/Situational Loneliness


This tends to occur when a person experiences a significant change in their life which affects the quality of their social outlets and relationships with significant others. It is brought about by often sudden, unexpected or enforced changes to life circumstances and environment.

These life events may include:  

  • Bereavement
  • Bullying, harassment or discrimination
  • Leaving Care
  • Homelessness
  • Poor health
  • Retirement
  • Post Natal Depression
  • Children leaving home
  • Moving home
  • Loss of employment
  • Divorce/separation or relationship breakdown
  • Moving into Care
  • Being a carer
  • Living with a disability
  • Being a refugee or asylum seeker

3. Chronic Loneliness


There is also a third type of loneliness which is referred to as Chronic Loneliness. This is usually defined when an individual feels that they have lacked satisfactory social relations for a sustained period of two or more years.

Lonely man

Social Isolation

Social Isolation refers more quantifiably to the lack of opportunities or social outlets available to an individual due to circumstances which arise through no fault of their own.

We can all probably think of examples of elderly people living in our local community who lose their life partner. Perhaps their children – if they had any - are living abroad, or their siblings have passed away, leaving them with no immediate family to interact with.

You could also think of social isolation in the context of a young person who has been orphaned and raised in a care home without any contact with previous family or siblings.

While the support of the care staff may be good, the child may still feel an overriding sense of not belonging and a lack of identity and connectivity, which can lead to a heightened sense of social isolation and an extremely limited range of meaningful social outlets.

Individuals may even begin to isolate themselves deliberately as this feels normal and comfortable to them.

Impacts of Loneliness and Social Isolation

If left unaddressed, loneliness and social isolation can have a significant impact on individuals from a biological, psychological and behavioral perspective, all of which will then have a negative effect on their mental health.

These are some of the potential impacts on an individual’s biological, psychological and behavioural make up as a result of loneliness and social isolation.

Biological:

Increased symptoms of existing illness Hypervigilance
Low energy Insomnia
Heightened stress Over/Undereating
Anxiety and mood disorders Identity crisis

Psychological:

Low Confidence/Self esteem Depression
Intrusive or negative thoughts Poor or ineffective coping skills
Suicidal ideation Mood or personality disorders

Behavioural:

Deliberate withdrawal/Self isolation Poor hygiene
Avoidance Reduced exercise
Inability to concentrate Excessive drinking substance misuse
Poor work performance Substance misuse
Lack of interest in hobbies Lack of self-care


IMPORTANT

Call 111 or ask for an urgent GP appointment if:

  • you need help urgently, but it's not an emergency

111 can tell you the right place to get help if you need to see someone. Go to 111.nhs.uk or call: 111.

Call 999 or go to A&E now if:

  • you or someone you know needs immediate help
  • you have seriously harmed yourself – for example, by taking a drug overdose

A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a medical emergency.