Loneliness And Mental Health

Loneliness And Mental Health

I am yet to meet someone who has not liked the movie Lunchbox. 

In the movie Lunch Box, Irfan Khan  playing the role of Saajan in a letter writes to Nimrat Kaur, Ila “ I think we forget things if we have no one to tell them to .” Ira is a housewife trapped in a souring marriage ( she suspects her husband is having an affair ) and stifling domesticity ( her world is confined to her small apartment, mainly the kitchen . where she rustles up delectable dishes). Saajan is a widower on the verge of retirement. They are both desperately lonely. The lunchbox that travels between them, ensconced in a dull green tiffin cover, becomes a lifeline for both. The protagonist in the movie is bruised person battling solitude and loneliness which is common in modern living. 

“All of us have felt lonely at some point or other in our lives.”

During the pandemic, social distancing restrictions and lockdowns meant many more people faced social isolation and loneliness.  Loneliness and social isolation are related but not the same thing. Social isolation is an objective lack of social contact which can be measured by the number of relationships a person has. Someone who is socially isolated isn’t necessarily lonely, nor is a lonely person necessarily socially isolated. Loneliness is an emotional state, unpleasant, reflecting the subjective experience of suffering from social isolation. 

We can all feel lonely at times. We can even feel lonely when we’re surrounded by others. There are however certain risk factors associated with loneliness. The risk factors of loneliness include being widowed, being single, living alone or being unemployed and having a long-term health condition.  If this state is constant or pervasive, neglected and not attended to, it gives rise to serious mental health consequences. Being lonely for a long time can lead to a negative spiral: loneliness makes it harder to connect, which leads to people being afraid of social situations and avoiding them. The pandemic has heightened the disadvantages among groups that were already at an increased risk of loneliness. 

The prevalence of loneliness is on the rise. Social relationships and social integration are crucial for emotional fulfilment and development. As social beings, we humans, have a basic ‘need to belong’.  Factor analysis of the National Mental Health Survey ( 2018-19) records show that more than 30% of the Indian population feels lonely most days of the week at some point or other, whereas 65% of them suffer from at least one mental disorder or substance abuse. Research on loneliness over the lifespan concluded that loneliness was highest in late adolescence (15-16 years), gradually decreasing during middle adulthood and increasing again in late adulthood (60 years plus). 

The World Health Organization (WHO) identified loneliness as one of the common and preventable risk factors for depression. Decades of research in mood disorders have suggested loneliness as a potential risk factor for suicide especially among young adults. Research clearly states that depression and loneliness are intricately linked. It can also increase the risk for other psychiatric conditions like panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorders etc. In children, it can lead to problems in learning, school refusal, inattention, speech issues and conduct disorders with decreased academic and social performance. Loneliness also aggravates the morbidity and mortality of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases. It has also been related to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease in aging. 

 “Unfortunately in our busy lives, we often neglect our loneliness and offshoots of it.”

We try to compensate for it through virtual connections, addictions, overworking and other maladaptive practices. Loneliness has become a common gateway factor to highly addictive substances like alcohol, tobacco, cocaine and heroin. People also tend to retire to the digital world, increasing the risk of mobile overuse, online gaming and technology addiction. 

Dealing with loneliness can be difficult.  There are things we can all do to cope with loneliness and prevent some of the negative feelings and mental health problems that can come with it. Here are some of the coping strategies that  might find useful: 

  1. Try to do some enjoyable things that will keep you busy: Small activities like gardening, cooking, and going for walks can give you energy and positive feelings.  It is essential to cherish our activities, no matter how simple, we need to enjoy them and find it fun and fulfilling. 
  2. Try to do things that will stimulate your mind: Learning a new skill  language, musical instrument, or listening to podcasts can be simple and stimulating 
  3. Try to engage with the people you meet in your daily life: sharing a polite greeting with neighbours and friends can be a good experience. Human touch and interaction still have no replacement in this digitally-driven society.  Remember, by sharing a polite greeting you might be giving someone else a positive lift too. 
  4. Spend time with Pets: Pet lovers can vouch for this. Not only do animals provide us with unconditional love and support, but they also help us give structure to our days and even encourage us to get out and connect with others. Research has shown that interaction with pets reduces cortisol levels. 
  5. Use social media in a positive way: Use of social media is a double-edged sword. It can affect us negatively. The key is to use it in a positive way. Finding digital communities, you share interests and passions can help. 
  6. Consulting and sharing your thoughts and feelings with a Professional Counsellor or Therapist can help you cope with your feelings of loneliness. 

In words of Mother Teresa, “ The human bond, in its true sense, has the capacity for miracles.” 

Manavi Pathak

Manavi is a trained Psychologist. She is interested in the field of mental health and well-being. She is a trained Yoga instructor and is a regular contributor to various magazines, and digital platforms on Mental Health.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: