10th September 2019 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Research has shown that loneliness and suicidal thoughts are linked and are both far too commonplace. If you do one thing today, reach out to someone…
Loneliness is a feeling that most of us will experience at some point in our lives. You can feel lonely in a crowd, with colleagues at work, and with your friends and closest family. But if this loneliness becomes persistent, it can pose a significant risk to our health and wellbeing. Young people aged 16 to 24 report feeling lonely more often than older age groups. (Samaritans, 2019)
Last year, the rate of deaths among under 25s increased by 23.7%, reaching 730. That’s 730 missed opportunities to identify a young person in need of urgent help, 730 too many.
Following interviews with young people, the Samaritans found that there is a correlation between loneliness and suicidal thoughts, and that loneliness can be experienced on an individual level, within communities and within society as a whole.
“It’s an age where I felt like I’m not really sure of myself, and sometimes you’re lonely because you’re not okay with who you are.”
Many young people feel unable to ask for help or don’t know where to get help for their feelings of loneliness. For many of them, stigma is major barrier to help-seeking. Tackling the stigma around loneliness and suicide is therefore critical to improving help-seeking for loneliness.
But there is hope. Suicide IS preventable. No young person should ever get to the point where they feel they have no option but to take their own life.
Being aware of, understanding the impact of, and taking steps to reduce loneliness could be an important part of suicide prevention in young people.
“If I wasn’t lonely, I wouldn’t have felt particularly suicidal…If I’d been surrounded by people that I enjoyed getting on with and that I felt more myself around; and that I could be myself and that person was accepted and liked; then I wouldn’t have felt suicidal.”
What to Do If You’re Experiencing Feelings of Loneliness
If you’re experiencing loneliness, there are things you can do about it.
Join a group – Whether it’s an art class, an exercise class, a team sport, or a class at your local community centre, joining a group automatically exposes you to a mix of people who share at least one of your interests. It can also provide a sense of belonging that comes with being part of a group. This can stimulate creativity, give you something to look forward to during the day, and help stave off loneliness.
Volunteer – Becoming a volunteer for a cause you believe in can provide the same benefits as taking a class (meeting others, being part of a group, creating new experiences) and also provides the benefits of altruism (feeling good because of the things you do for others); it can also help you find more meaning and purpose in your life, both of which can bring greater happiness and life satisfaction, as well as decrease loneliness. Additionally, working with others who have less can help you feel a deeper sense of gratitude for what you have in your own life.
Find Support Online – Because loneliness is a somewhat widespread issue, there are many people online who are looking for people to connect with. You do have to be careful of who you meet over the internet (and, obviously, don’t give out any personal information like your bank account number), but you can find real support, connection and lasting friendships from people you meet online. Safe sites like https://www.elefriends.org.uk/ and www.childline.org.uk are good places to start.
Strengthen Existing Relationships – You probably already have people in your life that you could get to know better, or connections with family that could be deepened. If so, try calling friends more often, go out with them more, and find other ways to enjoy your existing relationships and strengthen bonds.
Get a Pet – Pets carry so many benefits, and preventing loneliness is one of them. Rescuing a pet combines the benefits of altruism and companionship, and leaves you with several loneliness-fighters. It can connect you with other people (walking a dog opens you up to a community of other dog-walkers, and a cute dog on a lead tends to be a people magnet!). Additionally, pets provide unconditional love, which can be a great salve for loneliness.
See a Therapist – Research has shown that loneliness and associated symptoms of depression can act in a cycle that can diminish your wellbeing, meaning the more lonely you are, the more depressed you feel, and vice versa. It’s also been found that people experiencing loneliness tend to feel lonelier than others when with other people, meaning that even when they are with other people, lonely people tend to keep their loneliness to a degree; because of this, sometimes just “getting out there” and meeting other people isn’t enough. If this is the case for you, it may be a good idea to seek therapeutic support to help overcome feelings of loneliness, especially if you also feel symptoms of depression, such as a loss of enjoyment doing things you used to enjoy.
Whatever you do to combat loneliness, know that you are truly not alone, and there are many things you can do to feel more connected.
Papyrus Prevention of Young Suicide
Shout Shout is the UK’s first free 24/7 text service for anyone in crisis anytime, anywhere. It’s a place to go if you’re struggling to cope and you need immediate help. Text Shout to 85258