Many of us feel lonely now and again. But for some people loneliness can have a devastating impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

Loneliness is when you feel the quality of your relationships and social contact is not as good as you’d like it to be. You don’t have to be alone to feel lonely - people with lots of friends and family and active social lives can still feel lonely if they don’t have strong connections with the people around them.

Our member Siri Lewis says: “Loneliness can be really difficult. Often people don’t want to burden others with how they’re feeling.

“From the outside, you may look like someone who has a great job, relationship, friends, and perhaps people think you have the perfect life. But inside you feel really lonely. It’s not easy to admit when that’s the case.”

What causes loneliness?

There can be many reasons why you may struggle to build relationships and connections. “Loneliness isn't one-size-fits-all,” says Siri, “Everyone’s experiences of it, and the reasons for feeling lonely, will be different.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased feelings of loneliness as we  faced reduced social contact and isolation. Says Siri: "Remote working has played a big part for some people. They’ve missed the experience of being in the office and being with colleagues, and that’s left them feeling lonely.”

Other causes of loneliness can include grieving a loved one, dealing with a relationship break-up, retirement, changing jobs, moving to a new area or starting university. In all these situations, you’ve lost a relationship or connection with people who make a difference in your life.

Who does loneliness affect?

Loneliness can affect anyone, of any age, but some groups of people are more at risk. 

Younger people may face loneliness as they navigate their changing lives. Says Siri: “Your teenage years can be a lonely time. You’re discovering who you are and moving into adulthood, and sometimes that can leave you feel isolated and lonely.”

Older people may become increasing lonely as families move away, they lose friends or relatives, or failing health leaves them unable to join in with social activities.

Those from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds, people who are disabled, single parents, those who face discrimination and stigma, or feel separated from those with a similar background to them, are at risk. And people who’ve experienced abuse may find it difficult to build relationships with others, and consequently feel lonely.

How can loneliness affect mental health?

Loneliness can lead to anxiety and depression. It can also be connected to issues such as low self-esteem, low self-confidence, stress and social anxiety.

“If you’re feeling lonely, you’re often left alone with your own thoughts. Over-thinking can be an issue,” adds Siri.

But it can also work the other way. If you’re struggling with your mental health, that may increase your chances of feeling lonely.

How to deal with loneliness

Sometimes the hardest step is admitting you’re lonely. “It’s really important you confide in people,” says Siri. “There is help out there. Understanding why you feel this way can be key."

There are some practical things you could do. Siri suggests looking for social groups or community organisations to get involved in. “Finding groups of people with similar interests may help you build that connection you’ve been missing,” she says.

“Or make a phone call, have a chat to a friend or relative; sometimes that one conversation can really help improve your day.”

How can counselling help with loneliness?

Counselling can help you to explore and understand how you’re feeling and give you coping skills to deal with your loneliness.

“A counsellor won’t judge you, and you can talk openly about what you’re going through," says Siri. “They can help you understand when you feel most lonely and what causes you to feel this way, and they'll support you to find out what you can do about it.

“I’d encourage anyone feeling lonely to reach out for help. There’s something that will work for you.”