What is loneliness?

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is a subjective experience and is experienced differently by everyone. It can be:

  • Social - missing a group or network of friends
  • Emotional - for example missing a particular loved one after bereavement
  • Transient - it comes and goes
  • Situational - lonely at particular times such as birthdays, Christmas, bank holidays
  • Chronic - severely lonely all or most of the time

What is social isolation?

Social isolation is about the quality and quantity of the social relationships a person has either individually, as a group, in a community or society.

Social isolation and loneliness are different because:

  • It’s possible for someone to feel lonely without being socially isolated. This is often described as ‘feeling lonely in a crowded room’ e.g. care home residents are not isolated but evidence shows many feel lonely
  • Some people choose to be on their own and are happy with this. Therefore, they may be socially isolated by choice but not feel lonely

Humans are social beings and loneliness is a natural human experience. Just like hunger and thirst are signals to take action to eat and drink in order to survive, loneliness is a signal to connect for mutual protection.

Loneliness is therefore valuable in small doses as it encourages us to reconnect. But experiencing these uncomfortable feelings over a long period of time can lead to chronic loneliness and is harmful to health.

Evidence shows that social connections also provide physical health protection. Therefore, being connected and feeling satisfied with your relationships is good for your health.

Despite loneliness being a natural experience, there is a stigma attached to admitting to feeling lonely. This stigma can prevent people from asking for help which increases the chance of feelings of loneliness becoming a long term issue.