Young people more susceptible to loneliness than the elderly

Intriguing BBC study finds about 40 per cent of 16-24 year-olds can be affected

Young people can feel lonely when they have moved away from home  to go to college or to work  or when their own friends have moved away.

Young people can feel lonely when they have moved away from home to go to college or to work or when their own friends have moved away.

 

Who is most likely to feel lonely? Most of us probably think it’s the old but actually it’s the young, according to a BBC survey.

The BBC Loneliness Project gathered information from 55,000 people online for a radio series on loneliness. About 40 per cent of people aged 16-24 said they often feel lonely, as against 27 per cent of people over 75. And people older than 24 said their most lonely years were during their young adulthood.

Why do young people feel lonelier than others?

In some cases they’ve moved away from their familiar setting for college or work or friends have moved away. They are also undergoing a big transition emotionally – separating out from family and childhood, forming their adult identity and so on.

The research helps to dispel other myths about loneliness. For instance, lonely people tend to have the same average scores when it comes to social skills as those who are not lonely. They are just as empathic as others, sometimes more so.

When people feel lonely it can seem like it’s going to last forever. But it often passes because it’s due to circumstances. Pursuing interests and getting involved in social activities helps people to get through until things change in a positive direction.

Lots of people use the meetup.com websites which bring people – lonely or not – together to pursue a wide range of common interests from tango to book clubs and from chanting to surfing the waves.

Involvement with other people is, it should go without saying, the cure for loneliness. In the first job I ever had I was the only person working on the top floor of an office. I lived on my own also in a bedsit and I remember learning that loneliness could be physically painful.

Then I was caught committing the sin of making a private call on the company phone on company time. I don’t remember who I had been talking to when the boss stormed in but that call changed my life because I was moved to a shared office downstairs and the loneliness disappeared.

One interesting finding in the BBC survey was that lonely people tend to be less trusting of others than those who are not. This might be a consequence of loneliness – if you believe you are alone because others don’t like you, then you may put a negative interpretation on unimportant events.

For instance a colleague might show little interest in your conversation and you think they don’t want anything to do with you – in fact they might be stressed by a deadline that’s coming at them too fast.

Long-term benefits

On a different topic, I wrote last week about “dry January” and if you’re one of those who has knocked off the booze for the month you might get some encouragement from research by the University of Sussex.

People who complete the month without a drink gain long-term benefits, the study found. Six months later they are drinking less per day and on fewer days of the week. They learn that they can have fun without a drink, they sleep better and have more energy. Among the benefits, most say they have better skin which should be encouraging for those who spend a lot of time looking in the mirror.

What if you fall off the wagon before the month is up? Interestingly, those who try but don’t make it also gain the benefits, though to a lesser extent, according to Dr Richard de Visser, Reader in Psychology at the University of Sussex.

It also strikes me that February is on the way and that it’s the shortest month of the year. Before I experimentally gave up drinking (the experiment is five years old by now) I cut out the booze for February on the grounds that it was a short month.

So if you tried but didn’t make it, you could always give it a go then and see what happens.

– Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Kindfulness. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com).

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