Loneliness Can Impact Mental Health

Loneliness Can Impact Mental Health

Loneliness: Is it an epidemic or just inside our minds?

by Barbra Waldfogel, LCSW

Cupid seems to want to shoot his arrow at us this month, for better or for worse.

It’s the time of year when consumers are supposed to be exchanging flowers, ValentinesDay cards and “I Love You” candies to show mutual affection. But what I experience in February is an uptick in requests for mental health services by young adults. Loneliness resulting in depression, suicidal thoughts, insomnia and anxiety is frequently reported as underlying requests for evaluation for therapy or anti-depressant medication.

So what exactly is loneliness? According to Fay Bound Alberti, author of “A Biography of Loneliness”, loneliness is: “an enduring condition of emotional distress that arises when a person feels estranged from, misunderstood, or rejected by others and/or lacks appropriate social partners for desired activities, particularly activities that provide a sense of social integration and opportunities for emotional intimacy”. In February of 2019, Psychology Today reported that loneliness affects almost half of adult Americans!

What is going on? What contributes to loneliness in big cities like Manhattan or Washington, DC?

This is the season when we see many single and married adults in their 20s and 30s, (oftentimes newcomers to the city), who have just returned from difficult holidays with family, have marital conflicts or failed attempts at dating, or have gained weight and/or lost relationships due to relocation. It’s also the time of year for annual performance reviews. We frequently see clients who are anxious because they are having conflicts in the workplace.

Stephanie and John Capitanio, researchers on the neurology of “loneliness” note that: “…the brain is the key organ of social connections and processes and the same objective relationship (e.g., sibling, spouse) can be experienced as caring and protective or callous and threatening. Individuals can feel lonely in a marriage, friendship, family, or congregation.” Further, a recent study in the Netherlands concluded that a sense of control , or mastery, over one’s life has a significant impact on how lonely a person feels.

The sense of having little control in our relationships plus the notion of being on the outside, not quite fitting in socially, romantically or vocationally are among the most important factors behind the type of depression and anxiety we see at this time of year.

One of my basic aims is to help patients learn to embrace imperfection. Developing nonjudgmental attitudes towards the self and others while willingly riding feelings of sadness or shame are central to mental health. At the same time, clients want to learn strategies to connect more effectively with others. This often requires social skill training.

Is loneliness inside the mind? Yes. It is also objective reality for many at home, at work, at school and especially in a big city like Manhattan or Washington, DC. Is loneliness happening in epidemic proportions? Research suggests that the numbers of people who report feeling chronically lonely are staggering and young adults are amongst those at high risk.

If you’ve been struggling with feelings of loneliness or anxiety, we can help. Contact The Ross Center and schedule an appointment with a therapist who can help guide you through challenging transitional years. Many of our therapists specialize in particular life phases, such as transitioning to college, career development, relationship and divorce, identity issues, or parenting challenges.

Our clinicians offer supportive guidance for positive change, empowering you with the tools to recognize and reframe ineffective thought patterns and behaviors. You’ll benefit from a relationship with an empathetic professional who will help you to manage relationships and transitions with less stress and more confidence.