Being alone is different to being lonely. At times we all enjoy flying solo. Being alone can feel preferable for some people, but being lonely is feeling alone, or disconnected and dissatisfied with the quality of our relationships and, at the same time, wanting this to be different. It is true that you can be surrounded by people and still feel alone.
We tend to think of ways to improve our health as intervening in the purely physical, such as diet and exercise and medications. Yet we are increasingly seeing that relationships are key to improving our physical health and well being. We have clear evidence that chronically feeling lonely (not being alone) is not good for our health. Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 25 per cent, and increases the risk of poor health outcomes. Obviously feeling lonely puts us at risk of developing mental health conditions.
In a recent article, Dr Michelle Lim, Scientific Chair of the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness, said loneliness had been identified as the next public health issue. She discusses the need for the government to identity the importance of addressing the issues, resource change and follow in the footsteps of the British Government, which has appointed a loneliness minister.
While governments might lead change, psychologist Kelly Wilson who has researched social support and connection, suggests that we think every day “what am I doing to strengthen my connections with others”?