Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, feelings of social isolation and loneliness have been rife throughout Australia. In fact, 1 in 3 Australians are lonely according the recent Ending Loneliness Together report.

But how do we define loneliness? And how does it affect someone?

What is loneliness?

Research surrounding the health impacts of loneliness has been in existence for some time, with findings revealing that feeling lonely is linked to risk of an earlier death, depression, dementia and poor self-rated health.

Despite this, it is interesting to note there is actually no agreed definition of loneliness amongst researchers. Some define it as the separation between the number of quality relationships and connections that we have, against those we would like to have. Other researchers see loneliness as two-dimensional, social and emotional.

Social loneliness is an experience where a person is missing their wider social network, whereas emotional loneliness is described as someone who is missing an intimate relationship. While the precise definitions of loneliness differ, it is commonly agreed that loneliness is an unwelcome, painful and unpleasant feeling. It is also universally agreed that further measuring and studying is required to help society understand more about what works to help prevent or alleviate loneliness.

How does loneliness affect someone’s physical and mental health?

Man sitting alone on a park bench
Photo by Bruno Martins / Unsplash

UCLA research examined by recent guidance from the Campaign to End Loneliness has found a number of alarming health impacts to individuals who are experiencing loneliness. Loneliness is a serious health consideration, with recent studies revealing that social disconnection is directly associated with a 50% increased likelihood of premature death – aligning it comparatively to other high-risk factors on health such as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Loneliness has also been found to contribute to health problems including psychological stress, higher blood pressure, sleep problems, depression and cognitive decline.

People who become lonely, or remain lonely, visit their GPs more often and present at hospital more frequently. Social isolation is also associated with less physical exercise, a greater prevalence of regular smoking and excessive alcohol consumption - Professor Alan Duncan, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre Director

People who experience chronic loneliness have an increased risk of developing dementia by 64 per cent. It is also true that loneliness affects mortality, with almost 150 studies all confirming that participants with stronger social relationships and ties had 50 per cent decreased risk of mortality.

Who is most likely to experience loneliness?

Anyone can experience loneliness and social isolation at any point in their life. However, some Australians are more prone to feeling lonely than others. These include:

  • young people aged 18-24
  • people who live alone
  • people who are single
  • people who are unemployed and/or receive income support
  • people with disability
  • Indigenous Australians
  • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

How can I combat feelings of loneliness?

Group of gardeners
Photo by Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

If you are yearning for companionship, here are some ways to combat feelings of loneliness:

  • Start a new hobby - this hobby could be anything from something active like playing basketball, or taking up a new skill such as sewing or playing guitar
  • Join a volunteer group - making your local community a better place by volunteering can also help you meet new people!
  • Sign up to a club - meet new people who have similar values and interests as you, like a sports club or religious youth group
  • Talk to someone - talking to someone about why you are feeling lonely can help to identify a range of possible solutions
  • Organise an event buddy - find a support worker who can accompany you to social events, like a music festival or gallery opening

Build lasting connections with Like Family

Like Family is an NDIS registered provider on a mission to end social isolation and loneliness through the power of human connections and inclusive communities. If you or someone you know live on the east coast of Australia and would like some companionship, Like Family can help.

We have a network of over 3,000 aged care and disability support workers who specialise in social and community support. They can help with a range of activities to help you build social skills and increase your independence, like:

  • a buddy for social events and exercise
  • meal preparation and cooking
  • arts & craft
  • household tasks
  • transportation and much more.

Sign up now to choose a local support worker whose interests are the same as your own.