Loneliness and Its Impact on Mental Health

The last two years have been challenging for the mental health of many Canadians.
man with backpack on the beach

Increased loneliness from isolation or changes to routines has contributed significantly to this. Here, we’ll explore what loneliness is, how it impacts mental health, and some ways you can cope with it.

What is Loneliness?

Loneliness has several forms and can happen whether you are physically near other people or not. 

  • Situational loneliness occurs when you enter an unfamiliar situation or situation that makes developing connections with other people difficult, such as starting a new job or moving to a new city. 
  • Social loneliness occurs for people who struggle to connect and engage with others, even people they know. This could be caused by shyness, social anxiety disorder, or low self-esteem.
  • Chronic loneliness occurs when individuals feel lonely for extended periods, and this state becomes their norm. People begin to accept that loneliness is part of their reality and lose interest in changing. 

Ten percent of Canadians aged 15 years and older experience chronic loneliness; twice as many women report constant loneliness within that percentage than men.

Loneliness in Young Adults

Studies show that adults in the Millennial and Gen Z generations feel lonelier than their older counterparts. 

Why are adults in this age group feeling so lonely?

We know that adjusting social restrictions during the pandemic has made it difficult to connect with others in person. Despite social media platforms being designed for connection, young adult users attribute it to their sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) and even major depressive disorder

How Loneliness Impacts Mental Health

Loneliness doesn’t require physical isolation to exist, although that can be a trigger. More often, loneliness comes from a state of mind of feeling alone.

It can lead to major depressive disorder, alcohol and drug use, poor decision-making, increased stress, and antisocial behaviour. For individuals with existing mental illnesses, feeling lonely can exacerbate the symptoms of their illness. 

How to Cope with Loneliness

If you are experiencing loneliness, the first step is to understand that you are not alone. No matter how isolated you feel, there are others who feel the same way.

Second, talk to someone. If you don’t have someone you can call or text, connect with one of these numbers from the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Third, reduce the amount of time spent on social network sites. A review of the literature researching FOMO, published in 2021, notes the negative impacts of social media use in relation to “mental health, social functioning, sleep, academic performance and productivity, neurodevelopmental disorders, and physical well-being.” 

If it feels right and manageable, other ways to cope with and divert from loneliness include: 

  • Volunteering
  • Joining a class or club online
  • Adopting a pet
  • Practicing self-care 
  • Deepening your existing connections with others, preferably “IRL” (in real life)

Interested in Learning More About Mental Health?

You can find more articles on mental health, mental illnesses, and the impact of the pandemic on our mental health by joining our email newsletter here.

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