The Weight of Loneliness

Through the pandemic, all of us experienced the importance of social connections and its fundamental role in our well-being. Beyond these specific circumstances, everyone is at risk of experiencing loneliness at some point in their lives, which, research has shown, to have major impacts on health and well-being.

Some countries have started to grasp the importance of the issue and their governments are attempting to prevent and reduce loneliness by raising awareness through national communication campaigns, supporting research, and allocating funding to organisations fostering connections across their communities. 

Research shows that some groups are disproportionately affected: the elderly, people living with a disability, people in the LGBTQ+ community and ethnic minority groups. Certain life-transitions or life-events can also be factors of risk of loneliness: having children below school age, being a single parent, losing a loved one through bereavement or break-up, moving to a new country or city, being unemployed and being the primary carer of a vulnerable dependent.

What is loneliness?

Everyone’s experiences of loneliness are different. It is subjective and personal to us. 

Perlman and Peplau suggested a definition of loneliness in 1981 as “a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship. It happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have and those that we want”. Loneliness is not the same as social isolation as you can feel lonely while surrounded by people. However, the two concepts are linked and can overlap. Profound distress when needs for intimacy and belonging is not met.

Loneliness can be experienced in different ways:

  • Emotional loneliness – a lack of emotional attachment to someone like a close friend or partner
  • Social loneliness – a lack of friends to go out with or who share our hobbies or interests.
  • Existential loneliness – a sense of being in a room of people you know and still feeling alone.

For some people, loneliness is a passing experience on specific occasions or contexts like Sundays or Christmas, while others may feel lonely all the time. It is referred to as chronic loneliness.

In their testimonials, those affected by loneliness report a profound distress. They share feelings of distance, rejection or not being understood by those they wish or expect to feel close to such as family members, partners, or friends. They regret the lack of emotional support. 

Loneliness is still stigmatised and often dismissed and trivialised, despite its impact on health.

Impact of loneliness on health:

Mental health issues can lead to greater feelings of loneliness, while loneliness can also lead to a decline in mental health.  Research indicates that people impacted by loneliness are at risk of developing depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, sleep issues and alcohol abuse. In the long term, some research also suggests it may increase the risk of dementia.

Tips on dealing with loneliness:

Keep busy and stimulated 

  • Join a group or a club centred on activities you like or wish to try.
  • Participate in the local life and events near you, a market, a conference, a music festival… You can also invite someone to tag along. Those activities are often free and can help to bond over shared experiences.
  • Pursue your interest and things you enjoy doing. It helps you feel more fulfilled, provides stimulation, is a welcoming distraction from unwanted thoughts and boosts the mood. Spending time in nature, exercising, reading a book or just people-watching can also be a good opportunity for spontaneous conversation with new people. 
  • Volunteer to help. Helping others or supporting a cause encourages human connections and can foster a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of meaning.

Foster contact and try finding people that “get you”

  • Keep in touch, check in on others and reach out for support when you need help. You can also message old friends and colleagues or create a group chat to feel more connected. 
  • Join a support group. They multiply on Facebook, and they are often specific to a cause or a community such as parents of children with disability, or a specific ethnic community in the country you reside in. 
  • Share your feelings. You may be surprised to know that others may also be struggling or in want of connection, despite what they may display on social media.

Spend time with pets: Pets can provide companionship, reduce stress, help keep a structured routine, and encourage outings and staying physically active.

It might be harder for people who’ve been lonely for a while to be open to connecting, so give yourself or your friend some time to respond to your friendly contact.  We all deserves to feel seen, connected and live fulfilling relationships.


To meet with a professional psychologist or counsellor, call The Other Clinic at 8809 0659 or email us


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Dahlberg, K. (2009). The enigmatic phenomenon of loneliness. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 2(4), 195-207.

Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2), 218-227.

Hawkley, L.C. (2022). Loneliness and health. Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 8, 22.

Mushtaq, R., Shoib, S., Shah, T., & Mushtaq, S. (2014). Relationship between loneliness, psychiatric disorders and physical health? A review on the psychological aspects of loneliness. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 8(9), WE01-4.

Peplau, L.A., & Perlman, D. (1982). Perspectives on loneliness. In L.A. Peplau & D. Perlman (Eds.), Loneliness: A sourcebook of current theory, research and therapy. New York, NY: Wiley.