Humans are highly social beings. Social links develop through relationships with others, whether it be family or friends. Human relationships are essential for a good life balance as well as good health. However, loneliness is quickly growing in our society. “Free hugs” and social media are increasingly no match for growing feelings of loneliness. If you feel isolated, know that you are not alone. Sometimes, loneliness can help with self-awareness and creativity. Other times, it can be painful and develop into isolation.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness can affect every part of society. It is present in every age group. In Quebec in 2017, a third of households consisted of people living alone. Young people are not spared, either. In fact, solitude is even harder to deal with in the age of social media, because many compare themselves with others. The amount of contacts, followers, and likes sometimes even introduces a feeling of shame. This does not help with self confidence either.
Solitude is not a bad thing in every circumstance. It is a part of life. It is even enriching sometimes, when it helps us understand ourselves further. It can also serve as a source of creativity, allowing our imagination to thrive.
We all need moments of alone time. However, if it leads to chronic isolation, it can negatively affect mental and physical health.
Isolation can be felt in two ways:
- Through physical loneliness: being alone.
- Through a feeling of loneliness: feeling alone.
In fact, even when surrounded by other people, it is possible to feel alone. Social loneliness concerns people who have practically no interpersonal relationships. For its part, affective loneliness is related to the lack of authentic relationships. Even with a social network, some youth suffer from feeling like they have no one to talk to sincerely. The absence of these social links can also create a strong feeling of loneliness.
What causes loneliness among youth?
Several factions increase young people’s risk of suffering from unwanted loneliness:
- Some character traits: shyness, introversion, lack of self-esteem.
- Discrimination: being a victim of racism, fatphobia, homophobia, or any other form of discrimination linked to appearance or gender.
- Mental illness: people living with a mental illness can develop social anxiety out of fear of experiencing certain emotions.
- Isolation: periods of prolonged isolation can cause sadness, despair, and depressive episodes.
- Entering university: moving to another city to study can often cause fears and difficulty in a young person’s life.
Students who have to leave their families and friends because post-secondary studies can potentially face loneliness. They often find themselves at a loss in a new city. They can also be scared of losing their friendships and relationships because of the distance. They feel alone, faced with the challenge of rebuilding new relationships in a community that is exclusively made up of strangers.
Causes of loneliness in youth are manyfold. Some youth may even deal with multiple of these factors, and when it happens, loneliness in the long term can heavily affect a person’s health.
What are the effects of too much loneliness on the state of health of youth?
Studies on the effects of loneliness show that it can affect a person’s behaviour. Feelings of boredom, sadness, and worthlessness increase. These feelings exacerbate withdrawal and loneliness. Ultimately, these factors can lead to depression in youth.
Other health risks exist, notably:
- Increasing stress hormones in the body;
- Reducing the immune system’s capacities.
The longer one feels lonely, the more these physical changes worsen. They can end up deteriorating a person’s general health, including one’s cardiovascular functions.
In the most severe cases, loneliness can lead to suicide. If you are currently experiencing a deep sense of loneliness, talk to people who will listen. To talk to someone at any time, contact Écoute entraide.
No matter the reason for your loneliness, it is well-known that it can heavily affect you physically and mentally.
For now, here are some ways to break this isolation:
- Signing up for a group activity: sports and outdoor activities are some of many that can be picked up. Try to contact associations or cultural centers for more information regarding their activities.
- Get involved in student life: there exists many student associations in schools. You can find out more about each of them through the school’s website, and maybe one of them will catch your eye.
- Volunteer at an organization that you believe in and support. It is a great way to meet people with the same values as you.
- Reach out to people who are going through the same thing as you; remember that a big part of the population is suffering from loneliness.
Every person is different and other options exist too. It is up to you to find the solutions that suit you better. However, if loneliness is a big source of despair for you, do not hesitate to consult a professional. You can contact an integrated health and social services centre for information. A therapist can assist you in better understanding the causes of your isolation while also reducing the negative effects that are associated to it.
LOVE supports youth to thrive through programs and healthy relationships that build emotional intelligence and help overcome the challenges they face. Our participants emerge from LOVE’s programs with greater resilience, heightened skills, and the confidence to be inspirational leaders.