Loneliness is something that many people will experience during their lifetime. Recognising the signs and knowing how to offer support could make all the difference to someone who is struggling.
Feeling lonely can affect all generations, and it might be more common than you think.
A survey suggests that almost half of UK adults feel lonely at least occasionally. Around 7% said they often or always feel lonely – that’s the equivalent of 3.8 million people.
While loneliness is often associated with elderly people living alone, figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest those aged between 16–29-years-old are more than twice as likely to report feeling lonely often or always than those aged over 70.
Loneliness can have a negative effect on your health and wellbeing. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, it can:
- Increase the risk of early mortality by 26%
- Place people at greater risk of poor mental health, including depression
- Elevate blood pressure and acute stress responses
- Be associated with poorer quality of sleep, particularly among young adults.
One of the biggest challenges of loneliness can be admitting it, both to yourself and others. Sometimes, a family member or friend can help someone experiencing loneliness recognise the problem.
Someone spending time alone isn’t necessarily lonely – they may simply prefer their own company.
However, if someone’s behaviour has changed, it could be a sign they’re feeling lonely.
Among the signs you may want to watch out for are:
- Being unproductive
- Focusing on the negatives
- Feeling ill frequently
- Becoming overly attached to possessions or hobbies.
If you recognise these signs in someone, offering your support could be invaluable.
5 ways to lend your support if someone you know is lonely
If you know someone is struggling with loneliness, arranging a catch-up could be useful, but it isn’t always so simple. Feeling lonely can harm mental health so they may decline your offer, even if it could be helpful.
Here are five useful ways to offer your support.
1. Listen to them
Simply being there for someone can be valuable.
Having someone to talk to can help them put their feelings into perspective. It’s a chance to let emotions out that may have been building up.
Offering reassurance can be beneficial too. Letting them know they’re not the only person dealing with loneliness and that you’re there for them could provide some comfort.
2. Be patient
While it might be tempting to try and push them out of their comfort zone, remember, loneliness might affect mental health too.
Gentle encouragement and letting them seek support or take the next steps at their own pace is important. From an outside perspective, it may be frustrating if you’re lending support, but you feel as though they aren’t taking opportunities to reduce loneliness. However, try and be patient and understand why it may be challenging.
3. Set a regular time to meet up
Setting up a regular time to meet the person you’re worried about might be useful. It could provide consistency in their social life and something to look forward to.
Whether you visit their home for a chat over a coffee once a week or make plans to go out and do something together every month, it can show you’re prioritising them and enjoy the time you spend with them.
4. Encourage them to make arrangements with others
Nudging them to make arrangements with other people in their life might also help them achieve the social interactions they want.
For those who want to expand their social circle, trying something new, like joining a class or getting involved in a community project, could provide a solution too.
5. Signpost help if they need it
There are lots of places to turn to for additional support or professional expertise. If a loved one is struggling, signposting organisations that may offer help could be a step in the right direction.
Samaritans charity offers a self-help app, online chat and 24/7 helpline that could provide someone to talk to. If it’s an older person you’re worried about, Age UK also offers support to those feeling lonely.
Other charities could be working in your local area and may provide some guidance to both you and the person affected by loneliness.