Loneliness can happen to people at any age, whether they are physically alone or around other people, and it can become a chronic issue for some.
“Loneliness can definitely be a mental health issue,” said David L. Shern, PhD, President/CEO at Mental Health America. “Social isolation, lack of a social support system, can increase the likelihood that individuals will develop a mental illness.”
Mental Health America launched May’s Mental Health Month 65 years ago and the theme this year is “Mind Your Health.” The goal of this month is to increase public recognition about the connection between mental health and overall health and wellness.
Loneliness and Elders
Is Your Mom Lonely?There can be many causes of loneliness, and for many older adults, feelings of loneliness are the result of social isolation due to the death of a spouse, no longer living near family and friends, or illness or disability that affects their routines.
The Eden Alternative®, a non-profit organization that provides “education and consultation for organizations across the continuum of care,” has identified loneliness as one of the three plagues that are responsible for much of the suffering experienced by senior citizens.
“The antidote to loneliness is companionship,” said Laura Beck, Learning and Development Guide for The Eden Alternative. “Close and continuous contact can alleviate loneliness.”
According to the Eden Alternative, loving companionship can be from a human and animal bond, developing intergenerational relationships, and developing deeply-knowing relationships.
People who are experiencing loneliness may not express it and this can lead to other problems.
“As individuals experience the stresses of life, the lack of persons to help ameliorate the psychological and practical impacts of these stresses increases the likelihood that they will have damaging effects on one’s mental health,” said Dr. Shern. “Also, the shame associated with mental illnesses, owing to continued lack of understanding by the general public, can lead to social isolation and loneliness.”
At any given time, roughly 60 million Americans, or at least one in five people, are feeling lonely, according to John T. Cacioppo, PhD, University of Chicago psychology professor and coauthor of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. A 2012 study published in the “Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry” showed that elderly people who are lonely are 64 percent or 2.5 time more likely to develop dementia than those who weren’t lonely. Loneliness can lead to long-term physical health problems, including dementia.
Tips for coping with loneliness include:
- Recognizing that loneliness is a problem is the first step in coping with it.
- Reaching out to friends, family and local support networks to alleviate the feelings of loneliness.
- Asking for what you need from friends to feel less lonely.
“Strategies that overcome both the negative impacts of isolation and loneliness and the effects of mental illnesses on increasing isolation are available and good for everyone’s mental health,” said. Dr. Shern.
Visit the Mental Health America website for mental health screening tools, tips on wellness, mental health services in your area and more.