People may experience loneliness at times, but long-term or severe loneliness may negatively affect health and well-being. Loneliness can affect people of all ages. Seeking support and connection may help resolve feelings of loneliness.

People may feel lonely when around others, when alone, or in certain situations.

This article examines loneliness types and causes, as well as how to seek help.

A person who may be experiencing loneliness is looking out onto a body of water.Share on Pinterest
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The American Psychological Association defines loneliness as a perceived state of being alone that causes discomfort or uneasiness.

People may experience emotional distress if their inherent companionship and intimacy needs are not met.

Loneliness may occur if people feel a gap between the quantity or quality of relationships they desire and their actual social connections.

Some psychologists view loneliness as part of the human condition that, although painful, may also offer renewal and increased self-awareness.

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, there are several types of loneliness:

  • Emotional loneliness: a lack of meaningful relationships
  • Social loneliness: a perceived lack in quality of social connections
  • Existential loneliness: a feeling of deep separation from others and the world
  • Transient loneliness: loneliness that comes and goes
  • Situational loneliness: loneliness that occurs only at certain times, such as on holidays
  • Chronic loneliness: loneliness that a person feels most or all of the time

How is loneliness different from being alone or in solitude?

Solitude is the physical state of being alone, while loneliness is a perceived state of being alone that causes emotional discomfort or distress.

Being alone does not necessarily correlate to loneliness. Some people may feel content in their own company, while some may feel lonely even when around others.

In a 2021 study, researchers gathered information on experiences of solitude in 2,035 people ranging from adolescents to older adults. Participants reported positive experiences relating to solitude, including self-connection, reduced pressure, and peaceful feelings.

A 2019 study suggests that a person’s motivation for solitude may determine whether they feel positive or negative emotions from being alone.

Choosing solitude to enjoy activities alone may be beneficial, whereas choosing solitude to avoid spending time with other people may be a negative experience.

If people are experiencing loneliness, they may feel:

  • disconnected from other people
  • isolated from other people
  • as though nobody understands them
  • as though they have nobody to turn to or talk with
  • sad

Physical symptoms may include changes in:

  • focus or concentration
  • appetite
  • sleep
  • energy levels

Loneliness can affect people of any age but may peak in adolescence, early adulthood, and older age.

Causes of loneliness in younger adults may include:

  • leaving home and transitioning into further education or employment
  • adapting to full-time employment and adult life
  • experiencing relationship transitions

Some researchers suggest that social media use, which may replace face-to-face contact, may contribute to loneliness. Others suggest that social media may allow people to form new relationships or connect with people they already know.

In older adults, loneliness may be due to social isolation, which may result from:

  • living alone
  • loss of family or friends
  • chronic health issues
  • hearing loss

Certain life events may make people feel lonely, such as:

  • bereavement
  • the end of a relationship
  • a job loss or job change
  • retirement
  • the start of college
  • mental health issues
  • the transition to parenthood
  • a move to a new area or country where they have no social connections

According to a 2021 Dutch study, risk factors for loneliness in people of various ages include:

  • being male
  • having lower levels of education
  • lacking financial resources
  • having mental health concerns
  • performing informal caregiving that feels burdensome
  • having limited social contact
  • having a physical disability
  • living alone
  • not having a paid job

According to a 2021 multi-country study, the prevalence of severe loneliness was 6% before the COVID-19 pandemic and 21% during the pandemic.

The aftereffects of the pandemic may leave people feeling a mix of emotions, and the pandemic’s long-term impact on mental health may contribute to loneliness.

The pandemic may have led to experiences such as loss of control, loss of employment, or grief. It is important that people validate these feelings rather than feel shame for the emotions they may be experiencing.

According to Mental Health America, loneliness may link to mental health issues. Loneliness may trigger a mental health condition, or it may stem from a mental health condition.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), loneliness may have a link to higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, social isolation and loneliness may have negative effects on physical health, including:

  • a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke
  • an increased risk of premature death from all causes
  • a 50% increased risk of dementia

Research suggests that in people with heart failure, loneliness can:

  • increase the risk of death by almost four times
  • cause a 68% increased risk of hospitalization
  • cause a 57% increased risk of visits to the emergency department

Tips for coping with loneliness include:

  • reaching out to a friend, family member, neighbor, or colleague and starting a conversation
  • finding a community or support group online or using social media to connect with like-minded people
  • practicing self-care and focusing on enjoyable activities
  • using positive self-talk and acknowledging personal successes and good qualities
  • volunteering in the community or with a local organization
  • talking with a healthcare professional about feeling lonely

Tips for feeling connected and preventing loneliness include:

  • engaging in enjoyable activities, pursuing a hobby, or taking a class to learn a new skill
  • scheduling time each day to connect with others in person, by phone, or online
  • considering getting a pet, if a person can care for one
  • getting regular exercise and joining an exercise group
  • reaching out to connect with neighbors, colleagues, or people in the community
  • looking for events, meetups, or local causes to get involved with
  • finding out about available home support services and visits, as well as online support groups, if a person cannot leave their home

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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The American Medical Association suggests that people consult a healthcare professional if they are feeling lonely, sad, or anxious more days than not.

People can reach out to someone they trust or talk with a doctor or counselor.

How can a person help if they think someone might be lonely?

If a person thinks someone might be lonely, ways to help include:

  • asking them how they are feeling
  • staying in touch through visits, calls, or messages
  • suggesting activities to do together
  • being reliable and honoring any commitments, such as a phone call or visit
  • suggesting that they contact a healthcare professional or a helpline if they are having difficulties with their mental or physical health

Loneliness is a perceived state of being alone that causes emotional unease or distress.

Chronic loneliness may lead to mental and physical health issues. Connecting with others and practicing self-care may help. People can seek help for loneliness by talking with a healthcare professional.