We all know what loneliness feels like. In fact, feeling lonely at points in our life is normal. However, when it becomes severe, it can interfere with our well-being. No matter your age, gender, or what is happening in your life, close and healthy connections encourage positive mental health. Friendship promotes a sense of belonging, which fulfills an essential emotional need. We can’t live fully alone, as we all need some sort of support system. When we are experiencing a mental health problem, our instinct might be to isolate and hide away. Friendships can play a key role in recovery. While friendships should not take the place of professional therapy, they do provide community in ways that a therapist cannot. The times you are struggling the most can be the hardest times to maintain your friendships, however, it is important to try to resist the urge to pull away. Walking through hard times together can strengthen friendships, and improve/protect mental health. Having a mental illness can make it difficult to reach out to others, as the feeling that no one understands you can be strong. However, the cycle of mental health and loneliness can be broken. If you are feeling lonely, well, you are not alone.
While many common descriptions of loneliness define it as being alone, loneliness is actually a state of mind of feeling alone. One that many of us are actually familiar with. Loneliness is a complex, and most times, unpleasant emotional response to social and emotional isolation (4). Mental health struggles and loneliness go hand in hand and create a vicious cycle, as one of the most common consequences of a mental illness is feeling lonely. Forming connections helps overcome the feelings of loneliness, as human connection is fundamental to our mental well being.
For many people struggling with a mental illness, it can be difficult to maintain friendships. Sometimes, all you may want to do is cancel dinner plans and dodge birthday parties. How do you explain to someone that due to the negative spiral of thoughts in your head and the pain in your heart, you have to cancel a meeting for coffee for the third time in a row? Mental illness leads you to feel shameful about things like this, causing you to isolate and struggle in silence even more. As much as loneliness can hurt us, social connection has been shown to help undo these effects, and even protect us for the future.
One of the best ways to fight mental health loneliness is to reach out to someone when you are having negative feelings. Although this is easier said than done since it feels easier to keep your feelings to yourself, it greatly benefits us to reach out and talk things through with someone. If you have no one in your life that you feel comfortable talking to, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a 24/7 crisis text line available (2). There are also many people looking online for others to connect with. Through groups like Facebook, you can find people with similar interests, or even similar struggles. However, you do have to be careful when choosing who you connect with on the internet. There are negative groups online that can be harmful and promote unhealthy behaviors, so it is important to be aware about what you are engaging in. Despite these resources, if you feel that your mental health symptoms and loneliness are chronic, it may also be a good idea to reach out to a professional, whether a therapist or doctor.
While social connection is largely beneficial for combating loneliness, loneliness can also be the way we perceive ourselves and our place in the world rather than our actual physical reality (5). For example, limiting beliefs can feed into loneliness. The thought that ‘no one will ever want to be my friend’, or ‘nobody will ever like me,’ can become so strong that it starts to feel like reality. When this happens, it is helpful to remind yourself that “this loneliness is only a creation of my thoughts and self-belief. As I begin to gently challenge these thoughts, and shine a different light on these beliefs, the spectre of loneliness begins to fade” (5).
On the other hand, if a friend of yours is struggling with their mental health, you can also provide valuable support to them. Even little things like making time to talk with them can make a drastic difference. Treat your friend with compassion and acceptance, and just listen to them to help them feel heard and validated. Remember that you are not responsible for others’ emotional feelings, and to ensure you maintain healthy boundaries.
Although loneliness is one of the hardest feelings we can experience, the important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Understanding the causes, and the ways to deal with your loneliness can help you overcome it. The last, and very important, point of this blog post is that although there are various ways you can reduce loneliness through connection to others, it is important to look at the relationship you have with yourself. You can be your own friend, and connect with yourself. Those same compassionate statements toward your friend can be applied to yourself. Self acceptance and self compassion can help you view yourself in a better light, leading you to be more open to connecting with others.
Written By: Ali Green, Social Media Intern
The Grove Counseling & Consulting, LLC
1. How to Make Friends as an Adult — and Why It’s Important. (n.d.). Time. https://time.com/5159867/adult-friendships-loneliness/
2. Wolov, J. (n.d.). How To Live With Mental Illness And The Loneliness It Brings. The Roots of Loneliness Project. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from https://www.rootsofloneliness.com/mental-illness-loneliness
3. Walton, A. G. (n.d.). 7 Ways Loneliness (And Connectedness) Affect Mental Health. Forbes. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2018/10/30/7-ways-loneliness-and-connected ness-affect-mental-health/?sh=4318d46de1dc
4. Barber, C. (2018). Loneliness and mental health. British Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 7(5), 209–214. https://doi.org/10.12968/bjmh.2018.7.5.209 5. Collier, L. (2023, May 4). Loneliness: ThinkLadder theme. Thinkladder. https://www.thinkladder.com/2023/03/02/theme-loneliness/?utm_term=loneliness&utm_campaign=THEME+BLOG+ADS&utm_source=adwords&utm_medium=ppc&hsa_acc=1562039543&hsa_cam=19686050104&hsa_grp=146235245906&hsa_ad=650174710054&hsa_src=g&hsa_tgt=kwd14153850&hsa_kw=loneliness&hsa_mt=p&hsa_net=adword s&hsa_ver=3&gclid=CjwKCAjw67ajBhAVEiwA2g_jEESxtjOb2kiRtzsTsF6fSuEowmJ8 CgQIyMmkc38zpivEIidESQExIRoC2rUQAvD_BwE