What is Loneliness and Can We Fix It?
Let’s face it; we all feel lonely sometimes and it pretty much always sucks. There’s nothing like that feeling that you’re all alone in the world to make you feel worthless, unloved and unwanted, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. It might come about when we see a photo on social media of our friends having fun at a party we weren’t invited to, or maybe because no one’s picking up the phone when you really want to talk. You might find it rising up inside of you when you realise that in a big crowd you’re the only one who has a certain skin colour, or who is wearing something different or speaking a different language. Or it might be because that one person who you really want to talk to, doesn’t want to talk to you. Regardless of when and why it happens, loneliness is hard and, when it gets out of hand or becomes the norm rather than the exception, it can become debilitating.
Sadly, in our society today, 1 in 4 of us report that we feel lonely at least one day a week with young people aged 16-25 reporting the highest instances of loneliness across the population. According to the scientific chair of the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness, Dr Michelle Lim, “chronic loneliness is on the rise in Australia,” with many of us lacking the meaningful connections needed to maintain our social wellbeing. Loneliness may often be dismissed as insignificant or unimportant, but it’s a serious matter, with a recent study from Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Utah, USA showing that “feeling lonely can pose a bigger risk for premature death than smoking or obesity”. While sometimes our society seems more connected than ever, the rise in loneliness alongside the increases in homelessness, anxiety and suicide rates, points to the truth. Our society is sick and unless we do something soon, more and more people will fall victim to its symptoms.
Unfortunately, while anyone can experience loneliness, it is often our most vulnerable groups who are most affected by it. Executive director of research and strategy at Lifeline, Alan Woodward told ABC that factors such as mental illness, disability and being a member of marginalised or excluded groups such as the LGBTIQA+ community, recent migrants or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders all act as additional risk factors for whether someone will experience loneliness. In fact, Mr Woodward points out that the risk of loneliness increases “wherever there are elements of social exclusion in our society”. While this may seem demoralising and scary, it’s important to remember as it gives us vital clues about how this epidemic might come to an end.
If social exclusion is such a major contributing factor for loneliness, it stands to reason that by increasing empathy and connection, embracing diversity and challenging stereotypes and prejudices, we can begin to tackle the root causes of loneliness, not just treating the symptoms but working towards a cure. At The Intersection, we believe that when we open ourselves up to others perspectives, we expand our ability to connect and empathise with those outside our immediate circle, which contributes to building a more connected society. While sometimes we might feel small when experiencing loneliness or isolation, there are things we can do everyday to challenge the conditions that lead to social exclusion. For ourselves, we can join a club to meet people with similar interests, make an effort to reach out to someone we haven’t spoken to in a while or even challenge ourselves to have a conversation to have a conversation with a new person every day, whether they be at our school or work, on the train on the way home or even begging on the street. For others, we can remember to check in with friends who we haven’t heard from in a while or are going through a hard time and take that step to talk to that person we always see alone in the school yard, or always pass on the footpath outside our favourite cafe.
Loneliness is a big issue but to tackle it we can start small. All that’s important is that we start soon and commit to challenging ourselves and our communities to become welcoming, diverse and open spaces.
Jennings-Edquist, G 2019, ‘Feeling isolated? You’re not alone. Here’s why 1 in 4 of us is lonely,’ ABC, viewed 26 September 2019,
VicHealth 2019, ‘Loneliness: a new public health challenge emerges,’ viewed 26 September 2019,