Most of us are bound to feel a little lonely at some point in our lives and this is generally unavoidable for many of us. It’s important to remember that feeling lonely doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have friends or people to talk to – in fact many people who are constantly surrounded by people tend to feel lonely due to a lack of real connection. Adversely, if you are literally alone and have no one to talk to or share your feelings and thoughts with, you should take it as a sign that something may need to change. Generally, loneliness can be caused by a number of factors such as moving to a new town, losing a loved one, becoming depressed or battling with low self-esteem issues. It’s important to remember that all of us are vulnerable to these issues and can start to feel lonely at any point in our lives. Generally, when we feel sad or insecure about ourselves, we don’t go to the trouble of meeting new people or trying to put ourselves out there for fear of being rejected or told off or the thought of simply not enjoying ourselves persuades us to stay inside and in bed – wrapped up away from the troubles of the world and the issues that we need to deal with. There are also serious health issues that may come as a response to long-term or chronic loneliness. This could be things like heart disease, obesity, decreased memory, antisocial behavior, drug abuse and in serious cases extreme depression or even suicide.

I’ve worked with people who have openly said they want to kill themselves simply because they cannot connect with the people around them. So it’s easy to see why this is such an important issue to address and feelings of loneliness or acute isolation should always be treated seriously. When it comes to treating loneliness from a clinical point of view, it’s important to remember that you have to allow the patient to understand for him or herself that the issue is a sign that something has to change on their behalf. You can’t just tell them that something needs to change, you have to give them enough space and support to let them come to that understanding by themselves. Once you’ve made that understanding, it’s a lot easier to convince yourself (or better yet, allow your friends to convince you) to get out there again. While it may not mean going to a nightclub or a highly demanding environment at first, you can start off slowly by spending time at a local charity or going to more cultured events like plays or art exhibitions because these are great places to meet open-minded people who are more likely to be accommodating than youngsters drunk at a club. I remember taking a patient to one of my reading club meetings every 2 weeks for 3 months until they worked up the courage to talk to a stranger. Sometimes, it takes a while – but helping someone overcome their loneliness could mean that you save a life.

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