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THE DANGERS OF LONELINESS

Yesterday, as part of Mental Health Awareness week, we discussed various types of loneliness. Today we discuss the dangers of loneliness.


People have a fundamental need for inclusion in group life and for close relationships. We are social animals. The effects of lockdown were devastating for many after being deprived intimate company for long periods. Remember that joy of finally being able to mix with other households, of being able to see friends and family again. It is easier to stay motivated, to meet the varied challenges of life when we can socialise.


When our need for social relationships is not met, we can fall apart mentally and even physically. There are effects on the brain and on the body. Some effects work subtly, through the exposure to excess amounts of stress. Over time that unmet social need takes a serious toll on health, eroding our arteries, creating high blood pressure, and even undermining learning and memory.


A lack of close friends and a dearth of broader social contact generally bring the emotional discomfort or distress of loneliness. It begins with an awareness of a deficiency of relationships. This cognitive awareness plays through our brain with an emotional soundtrack. It makes us sad. We might feel an emptiness. We may be filled with a longing for contact. We feel isolated, distanced from others, deprived. These feelings tear away at our emotional well-being.


Despite the negative effects of loneliness, it is not abnormal. Everyone feels lonely sometime: after a break-up with a friend or partner, when we move to a new place, when we are excluded from some social gathering. Chronic loneliness is something else entirely.

In adults, loneliness is a major cause of depression and alcoholism. It increasingly appears to be the cause of a range of medical problems, some of which take decades to show up.

In a survey by one psychologist, doctors themselves confided that they provide better or more complete medical care to patients who have supportive families and are not socially isolated.


Living alone increases the risk of suicide for young and old alike.

Lonely individuals report higher levels of perceived stress even when exposed to the same stressors as non-lonely people, and even when they are relaxing.

The social interactions lonely people have are not as positive as those of other people, hence the relationships they have do not buffer them from stress as relationships normally do.


Loneliness raises levels of circulating stress hormones and levels of blood pressure. It undermines regulation of the circulatory system so that the heart muscle works harder and the blood vessels are subject to damage by blood flow turbulence.

Loneliness destroys the quality and efficiency of sleep, so that it is less restorative, both physically and psychologically. They wake up more at night and spend less time in bed actually sleeping than do the non-lonely.


In summary we are built for social contact. There are serious, life-threatening, consequences when we don’t get enough. We can’t stay on track mentally. And we are compromised physically. Social skills are crucial for your health.


The above is largely based on an article from Psychology Today by Hara Estroff Marano.

We at work can help those who might be suffering loneliness by being inclusive. Ask others how they are, use open questions, invite everyone to participate at meetings. Managers can, and indeed should, speak regularly to their staff, ask how their family is, remember family members’ names or pets. Ask about holidays. Directors can do likewise.


Visit a floor or department, ask how people are doing, but show an interest and take your time.


If you are currently feeling lonely please do not give up. There is plenty of help available on Island and on the internet. A good place to start is Are you ok? (gov.im)

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