We all feel lonely from time to time, and we all experience it differently. Generally, loneliness is the feeling we get when our needs for social contact and relationships are not met. It can be caused by a wide range of issues, from major life events (like bereavement, moving home, going through a breakup), to certain circumstances (such as belonging to a minority group, being a single parent, having a low income), or it may be the isolating effect of an existing mental health condition.
It’s important to remember that loneliness is not the same as being alone - some people enjoy spending time by themselves, and don’t feel lonely when they do. It is also possible to be surrounded by people and feel lonely, especially if you don’t feel understood or cared for by those around you.
Loneliness itself isn’t a mental health problem, but the two can impact upon each other. Having a mental health problem can increase the chance of feeling lonely, and feelings of loneliness can exacerbate an existing mental health condition. Loneliness has been associated with an increased risk of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and increased stress.
There are many ways to combat feelings of loneliness: befriender services, talking therapies, online or face-to-face groups or classes, volunteering, being outside or spending time with animals, or opening up to friends and family about how you feel. Whatever route works best for you, make sure you take things slowly and be kind to yourself.