In the age of social connection, young people are feeling more disconnected than ever.
It’s Mental Health Week in Australia and today over 150 countries are participating in a global event with the same mission, to raise awareness and reduce stigma—it’s World Mental Health Day! This year, the 2018 WMHDAY theme is: Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.
One of the main issues affecting young people is loneliness. In fact, research has shown that loneliness has significantly increased in teens and young adults, with those between 16 and 24 most affected. And even more alarming, suicide, the loneliest decision a person can ever make, is currently the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.
It’s ironic that In the age of social connection, young people are feeling more disconnected than ever.
Everyone feels lonely sometimes. Often loneliness is a temporary state of social isolation due to a change in circumstances (moving to another city, going to a new school). This ‘situational’ loneliness will usually resolve over time as people adjust to a new situation and new people.
But loneliness isn’t just situational or about being socially isolated. You can also be surrounded by friends and be in their company all the time, and still feel lonely. So it’s not just about how many friends you have necessarily, it’s about how you feel about the quality of those relationships.
So why are young people feeling lonelier than ever?
The digital age has a lot to answer for. The increase of communication through social media and in texts and emails may have led to a lack of social skills in face-to-face situations and a decrease in the kinds of conversations that lead to close and meaningful relationships that have real depth.
On World Mental Health Day, whether you are a young person or not, take some time today to reflect on this:
You may have lots of connections but do you feel connected?
If not, here are some tips to make better connections and decrease loneliness:
Connect face-to-face with friends: It can be easy to lose contact with friends or rely on texts to keep in touch, but make it a priority to see your friends in person. If they live far away, use Facetime or Skype to connect rather than texts, emails and Facebook posts.
Make an effort: Take an active approach to decrease loneliness. Make contact with friends, accept invitations, attend social functions, have a casual get together, organise a group dinner. It’s up to you to form more meaningful connections.
Be open to new people: Strike up conversations with people you come in contact with (neighbours, barista, classmates), you never know what you may have in common. Remember that your friends were all strangers once!
Combine social activities with other activities you value: Doing something that you enjoy with others will put you in a better position to improve the quality of your relationships. If you like tennis, join a cardio tennis group; if you want to learn how to paint, join a class; if you are interested in social justice, join a volunteer group or charity organisation.
If you like animals, get a dog: This helps with loneliness on several fronts. Dogs offer unconditional love, 24-hour company, cuddles on tap, and can give you many more opportunities to connect with people through puppy school or dog clubs or even just walking down the street.
Participate in initiatives like Mental Health Week. From October 7 to 13, Mental Health Week offers a range of opportunities for people across Australia to participate and engage in activities and initiatives that aim to inform and support the community about mental health and wellbeing.
Talk to someone: Open up about your feelings., especially if you have been lonely for a long time. Long-term loneliness is often influenced by several factors like:
having low confidence in your social skills,
being marginalised or bullied in school, or
having a history of being physically or emotionally abused in significant relationships (parents, partners, siblings).
These experiences can leave people feeling “different”, unworthy and wary of others which makes it difficult to form close relationships with others and can lead to a chronic sense of loneliness.
Chronic loneliness puts people at risk for a number of physical and mental health problems so it is very important to break through the stigma about seeking professional help. See your GP and use community resources like Lifeline, Crisis Line, Beyond Blue, and Find A Psychologist to access professional support and assistance.