It’s World Mental Health Day today. I’m so pleased that, this year, the focus is on mental health in adolescence and young adulthood. It’s great that mental health is being talked about more and more, and that people are starting to feel more comfortable opening up about how they’re feeling. In a world where everyone seems to be so damn happy and successful all the time, it’s important we raise awareness of the fact that this isn’t always the case; and most importantly, that that’s OK. It really is OK not to be OK.
One mental health issue that has been on my mind lately, prompted by the world’s largest survey on the topic, is that of loneliness. The Loneliness Experiment surveyed 55,000 people from around the world, varying from 16 to 99 years of age. The focus on mental health in adolescence and young adulthood on this year’s World Mental Health Day is particularly relevant, it would seem, as the survey found that the largest group of people (40%) experiencing loneliness were those between 16 and 24 years of age.
Most prevalent in young adults
The majority would assume that loneliness would be most felt in old age, when perhaps isolation is typically more prevalent. You’d assume that between the ages of 16 and 24, you’d be surrounded by friends, having the time of your life. You’d also assume that, as a generation, they’re more connected than ever through social media, WhatsApp, text messages, email etc. However, it would seem that this isn’t the case. Young adulthood is a particularly lonely and challenging time.
I myself didn’t find the result of this survey that surprising. I also wouldn’t be surprised if those in their late 20s and 30s weren’t that far behind the 16-24 year olds in how often they said they were experiencing loneliness. At the age of 36, I could probably safely say that this is the loneliest I’ve felt in my life so far. Perhaps it’s adjusting to motherhood, working part-time, or self-employment; perhaps it’s a combination of all three. I think my introverted personality, and how difficult I find sharing my feelings and emotions also play a big part. I also have very few close friends, all of which don’t live in London. Life is also very busy, making it hard to meet up and stay in touch in between. Social media doesn’t help either - when you’re feeling lonely, looking at pictures of others enjoying themselves really isn’t conducive with feeling better about things.
The loneliness of Career Change
Changing career can also be a lonely time. You don’t feel you belong in your current job, but you’re not yet involved in what will be your new world or associated tribe. No one else in your friendship group may be going through the same experience, which can make it feel like quite an isolating time. It can be hard discussing how you’re feeling with others too, especially parents, who may simply not understand why you’re not happy and find it hard to relate to your situation, leaving you to ruminate on it all by yourself.
Tips for overcoming loneliness
So, what can we do to manage our loneliness? How can we be OK with feeling lonely? How can we begin to feel less lonely and more connected?
- Talk to anyone, someone at least once a day. It doesn’t have to be a deep and meaningful conversation. It’s amazing how a simple, short interaction with another adult can change the way you feel about life in a short space of time. It’s sad that those who do this often get written off as “weird” - they’ve probably got the right idea!
- Social media cleanse. Set yourself one or two days in the week when you commit to not checking your social media accounts. Turn off your notifications. Vow to not check them when you’re feeling particularly low - it’s unlikely to help you feel better.
- Learn to like spending time with yourself. If we’re OK with being alone, it means we’re OK with who we are. It’s hard to be lonely if you enjoy time alone.
- Admit it to others. They’re likely to admit to feeling the same way, helping you feel less alone. Remember that no one can help you if they don’t know how you’re feeling. Having open, vulnerable conversations with others can help you feel more connected, and encourage you to realise that you’re not alone and that others care about you.
- Get out and do something different. Over the past few months, I reignited one of my long-lost passions from when I was younger - horse riding. It’s been great getting outdoors, having that time to myself, but also just chatting to the other riders in the class. Trying something new can encourage you to feel more confident, and allow you to meet new people along the way.
- Actually ring people. Phones these days make it so easy to avoid actual conversation. I often fail to ring friends and family because I think it’s going to be a mega long phone call, requiring a big chunk of time and energy. Ironically, if I picked up the phone more often, the conversations would be shorter and more effective. Solution? Call more often!
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I liked that Alice asked quite probing questions which really made me think about what it is I want and that even in an ideal world this could still be an option. I’ve come away with good advice and practical steps to follow.