It happens when you move to a new city, visit a foreign country by yourself or even stop getting out of the house regularly, such as in the throes of winter.
Everyone has experienced loneliness at some point in their lives. Maybe it lasted only a few hours or perhaps this complex emotion lingered for months.
Loneliness can lead to heart problems, depression or substance abuse. It’s an emotion as individual as the person who is experiencing it. Whatever the specifics, we know loneliness affects health.
A 2018 study found that loneliness peaks at three ages: late 20s, mid-50s and late 80s.
“The way society is, in general, can lend itself to loneliness,” said Patricia Student, an APRN at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Mass. “We are more transient—families split up, kids go to college, people move for jobs.”
While learning to adapt to live without your people can be traumatic, it’s important to remember loneliness does not necessarily mean being alone.
“While it can happen at any time, we tend to see a lot of loneliness in the elderly or when people retire from their careers,” Student said.
Moving to a new place, particularly a large city, can be a time when loneliness emerges.
In fact, the problem was so alarming that London appointed its first minister for loneliness after a UK-wide survey reported some nine million people suffered from it.
“The problem stems from social connectedness,” Student said. “Humans are social and we need to stay connected and engaged with one another. We need to be connected to something larger than ourselves.”
Many studies have shown the detrimental effects of loneliness. If left unattended it can lead to substance abuse, suicidal tendencies or other health problems.
The good news is that our culture has become keenly aware of the condition. Municipalities generally have resources for residents, such as occasional meet-ups to transportation for the elderly or the disabled.
“But people have to go out find these resources,” Student said. “The easiest way is to go online. There are opportunities for care and treatment but often people aren’t aware they exist.