Loneliness is not a single emotion, but rather a cluster of emotions. Being lonely can feel like grief, jealously, sadness, shame or anger. This suggests that loneliness is a very personal experience and reactions to loneliness can vary. Despite this, almost everyone has felt lonely at some time or another. Loneliness is a normal part of the human experience. However, feeling consistently lonely, or lonely for an extended period of time, can affect your health, wellbeing and happiness.
Loneliness is both a personal experience and a societal challenge. While loneliness has become a big focus for researchers and policy-makers in recent years, the ways in which we address the myriad causes of loneliness remain perplexing.
COVID-19 has had a significant effect on loneliness. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that 1 in 4 Australians felt lonely. During the height of the pandemic last year, that number rose to 1 in 2. Some have felt the pressure of isolating together in confined spaces, while other relationships have been forced online or limited to alternative forms of communication. While the experiences vary, no relationship remains untouched by the experiences of the last few years.
As Australians come in and out of different restrictions, with their families, friends and colleagues across borders and country lines, people are grappling with the reality that COVID-19 is likely to stick around for some time yet. While we have been “all in this together”, our experiences vary so vastly. As such, any predictions or responses require nuance.
Despite this, many have made predictions about what long-term outcomes this social upheaval will have on our mental health and wellbeing. These numbers go up and down, but the people behind those statistics continue to represent individuals struggling. It is important that we explore how we can support people and build their capacity, as we also raise awareness about loneliness and mental health as a national challenge.
Part of the challenge of addressing loneliness is its variability. For some, spending time with a big group of friends can be just the antidote they need, while for others, being surrounded by people can only intensify the feelings of loneliness. To help support you, or someone you love through the experience of loneliness, Relationships Australia has recently released a tip sheet on our website.
If you, or your organisation, are hoping address loneliness and create social connections, Neighbour Day is a great place to get started. Neighbour Day is Relationships Australia’s social connection campaign. Neighbour Day engages in awareness raising and capacity building to support individuals, communities, governments and business sectors to create and sustain connections, leading to respectful and enduring relationships. While the answers to loneliness may not be straightforward, having a variety of strong and supportive relationships is foundational to creating a resilient society, who can reach out for help when they need it.
Additionally, Relationships Australia is still collecting responses to the Families Un-locked study, which provides a unique opportunity to share your experiences with loneliness, mental health and wellbeing throughout the pandemic. The findings will assist us to support families and relationships throughout this challenging time. You can take part here.
See the findings from Relationships Australia’s report on Australia’s experience of loneliness, taken from 16 waves of the HILDA survey.