Resources & Education

June 20th, 2018

Examining the Impact of Loneliness at Various Ages

Lonely boy Loneliness and social isolation can strike at any point in life from teen to senior years. While occasional loneliness can be normal, frequent isolation may be a cause for concern. If you notice a loved one exhibits behaviors of loneliness, especially when it’s accompanied by withdrawal from social interactions, it may be time to contact a mental health professional.

Loneliness can lead to mental health and substance use disorders such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Some common symptoms include a lack of energy or motivation, trouble with sleep and diet, and negative feelings. Physical pain, including headaches, illness, pain, and worry about sickness, may also be present. Other symptoms can lead to problems with substance abuse.

The following section provides insight on how to deal with loneliness issues at various points in life:

TEENS

While teen angst will likely hit all kids at some point, there’s a fine line when help is needed. At this developmental point in life, teens typically are concerned with what others think of them. Due to the increased worry of what peers think, teens may not directly ask for help or be willing to talk.

What to look for:
Parents and loved ones should watch for increased periods of isolation—a few hours are fine, but extended periods of time could signal an issue. If other symptoms are present (sleep issues, diet changes, pain, lack of motivation, etc.) it is time to step in.

How to help:
If your teen avoids contact with peers, try enrolling him or her in an activity where they will meet people from other schools. Some great options include exercise classes (Tae kwon do, swimming/diving, yoga, etc.), group art or music classes, writing workshops, and community or religious youth groups. The trick is to identify the activity that would most appeal to your loved one, aiming to build on an existing interest rather than create a new one, as you want him or her to feel confident in the new group. If the isolation continues and the new activities don’t spur more social interaction, consider seeking professional help.

ADULTS

The pressure of family life and careers become increasingly difficult in the digital age. Many adults may rescind from daily social life to get a break from the pressure of having a perfect life on social media. It may be tough to spot loneliness and social isolation in adults because many live alone.

What to look for:
If you notice your loved one or spouse pulling back from social interactions and spending more and more free time alone, a problem may exist.

How to help:
First try reaching out to schedule one-on-one interactions with the loved one. It’s best to start in small groups before trying to encourage the lonely loved one to attend large events. Also encourage other close friends and family members to also reach out to the loved one for activities. If reaching out doesn’t work, consider finding and suggesting community outreach groups with trained professionals to help deal with this issue. While convincing an adult to seek can be immensely difficult, if the other options aren’t working, try your best to encourage him or her to seek help from a mental health professional.

SENIORS

Typically seniors spend more time at home during retirement, so seeing signs of isolation can be tricky. Many seniors enjoy long quiet days at home, finally finding the time to read, watch shows/movies, surf the web, and do home/craft projects.

What to look for:
When you start to think too many days have gone by since your senior loved one has engaged in social interaction, it may be time to help.

How to help:
Research and compile a list of local community or religious senior groups to share with your loved one. Senior group activities may include movie outings, luncheons/dinners, trips to live shows, bingo, card playing, gardening, and much more. Also research transportation options, in order to make the experience less stressful. Most importantly, check in on your senior loved one on a daily (or near daily basis). While visits are nice, even a simple phone call on your way home from work can make a difference.


Sources:

Teen Social Isolation: The Dangers of Being Alone


https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-help/topics/loneliness-isolation
https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2017/08/10/how-to-combat-loneliness-and-isolation-as-we-age/#70b107a33025

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