Being lonely is comparable to being hungry or thirsty. It is our bodies’ way of notifying us that we are not receiving enough of a basic human need: social connection. In recent years, social interaction has been diminished due to covid restrictions. On top of that, physical connection can still be challenging and new to us regardless of covid restrictions. When we experience a need to reach out; we reel back in fear because of the loss of contact for so long, the idea of communication has become largely irrelevant.
The Institute of Public Health (IPH) previously reported that loneliness was a “very serious public health issue” in 2021 and that it was rising more among 18 to 34-year-olds than any other age group.
In line with data from Prof. Roger O’Sullivan of the Institute of Public Health from 2018, 3% of people aged 18 to 34 reported feeling lonely “all or most of the time.” This increased to 26% in November 2020. Following this detail, St James’ Hospital consultant psychiatrist Prof. Brian Lawlor stated, “All the focus has been on older people and perhaps we have been neglecting the impact of loneliness and isolation on our younger people.”
Professor. O’Sullivan also warned that loneliness is separate from social isolation since it is difficult to identify in detail in people. “Not everyone who is socially isolated is lonely, and not everyone who is lonely is socially isolated. Loneliness is associated with depression and anxiety, cardiovascular disease, stress, disrupted sleeping, and premature mortality.”
The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) research also showed that the Covid-19 epidemic has had a substantial influence on young adults’ mental health on July 2022.
Researchers discovered that 55% of young women and 40% of young men who participated in the 2020 Growing Up in Ireland study were diagnosed with depression. The number of young guys aged 22 is nearly twice as high as it was two years ago.
According to the ESRI analysis, the pandemic’s disruption of young people’s social lives and loss of work had a substantial negative influence on their mental health. More than 80% of them reported having less in-person interactions with their friends than they had before the pandemic. The rolling lockdowns’ isolation-induced effects appear to have been the most detrimental.
Emer Smyth, an ESRI research professor, commented on the study and noted that the elevated levels of depression “reflect the massive disruption of the pandemic on young adults’ experience of employment, education, and day-to-day social activities.”
While the study found that having fewer friends led to increased depression in young women, it found that males who spent less time doing sports and being outside during the epidemic had higher rates of depression.
The issues detailed in this research had unavoidably created significant demands on community mental health services, with Smyth stating that providing appropriate mental health assistance for young adults was a “matter of urgency.”
A graduate Inchicore College student (24) who asked to remain anonymous described her experience with loneliness. Due to the strain of living in seclusion and being unable to leave the house while the pandemic was going on, her feelings of loneliness had significantly escalated.
Although she acknowledged that there were times when she felt connected at home, particularly as the pandemic gradually subsided even though the feeling wouldn’t last long, she compared loneliness to living and engaging in social activities while being encased in a bubble that keeps you cut off from any genuine connections.
“Of course, I have relationships where I feel ‘ connected ‘ for example with my family and friends but that feeling doesn’t last long, and then after, somehow, the bubble feels a little thicker, more dense and substantial. But ever since the pandemic happened, I felt a loss of touch from reality, and I would stay quiet with a group of people chatting away and I would just not talk with anyone,” she says.
She goes on to talk about loneliness and how people misconstrue loneliness with unhappiness.
“We might experience loneliness even when there are other people around. So, the reason we feel lonely is not because we are physically alone; rather, it is because we are searching for happiness. In order to find happiness, we have set up a condition that must be met. Otherwise, we will all feel unhappy. This is why we sometimes confuse loneliness with unhappiness,” she says.
She eventually learned that extreme loneliness was harmful to her health, and fortunately decided to seek counseling with Jigsaw. Her mood and sense of loneliness progressively improved after a few sessions. She mentioned that she is now contacting her former acquaintances and expressed regret over not having taken this action sooner.
“I feel much better compared to last year. I’m starting to engage in social activities and talking with my old friends again. I wished I had done this sooner because I never thought just talking it out could have made a better impact. But I guess it’s now or never,” she states.
Loneliness can be fought through social infrastructure. For people who are feeling lonely, peer therapy can be a source of support. There are benefits to connecting with others your own age who have experienced similar things. If possible, ask people over to your house if you are feeling lonely and get in touch with organizations and/or old friends.
No matter how challenging it may seem, join in social activities. Volunteering for a cause, joining voluntary groups, or taking part in community or religious activities may all be rewarding and help to lessen extreme loneliness. For my information, visit Loneliness and isolation | Advice for Young People | Jigsaw