There is a loneliness epidemic hitting our societies and it turns out that young people are among the worst affected.
For a long time, we have talked about loneliness among pensioners and the older generation, but research is increasingly showing that loneliness is actually experienced far earlier in life — and the statistics are shocking. In the US, data collected using UCLA’s Loneliness Index reveals that the youngest generation of Americans is the most affected by loneliness, with around 43% of young people claiming to feel lonely. Another recent study from the UK that surveyed over 55,000 people found that 16-24 year-olds experience higher levels of loneliness than any other age group, with over 40% of young people reporting feeling lonely “often” to “very often” — in comparison to the 27% of those aged 75 and older claiming the same.
This so-called “loneliness epidemic” has sparked concern across the board, from medical communities to politicians. The UK has even appointed its first-ever minister for loneliness, Tracey Crouch, to tackle this growing problem. And it’s for good reason. Far from a vague emotional gripe, loneliness has been linked to a whole host of illness and diseases, with one study even claiming that loneliness is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes every day.
But tackling loneliness among young people is incredibly tricky. Unlike with older people, there’s no clear correlation between isolation and loneliness. Many young people suffer from loneliness even when surrounded by people and living seemingly full social lives.
Whether you’re a young person dealing with feelings of loneliness or a concerned friend or relative, in this post, we take a look at four ways to tackle loneliness in young people.
4 Steps to Tackling Loneliness
Loneliness is subjective. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. We’re constantly discovering new reasons behind loneliness, and as the epidemic becomes better understood by those in positions to effect change, we should see new solutions develop. For the time being, though, how can we tackle loneliness in young people?
1. Digital Detox
Although 16-24 year-olds are more digitally connected than any other age group, the number of friends or the size of a social circle isn’t always indicative of positive social reinforcement. In fact, a recent survey reveals that people who report feeling lonely have more online Facebook friends than those who don’t.
We’re all aware of the dangers of our digital world. Most of us will have had several experiences of getting sucked into the vortex of social media only to find ourselves spiralling through pictures and posts of people who seem happier, prettier and more successful than us. Being bombarded on a daily basis with evidence of people apparently living better lives — the reality is often far from the carefully cultivated persona we share online — unsurprisingly takes its toll.
A digital detox is an easy way to get a break from the constant cycle of self-doubt and insecurity that can be induced by social media use. To start with, commit to 30 minutes every day when you put the phone away, turn off the laptop and get out into nature. This is a time purely for you — this means no sharing your view on Instagram or posting your inner thoughts on Twitter. Alongside the benefits achieved by getting away from social media, you’ll also benefit from immersing yourself in nature — whether that’s a local park, a forest or even an inner-city garden. Studies show this can have drastic effects on mood and happiness.
2. Embrace Hobbies and Activities
Back in the day, life was arguably more structured. For most, weekdays were dominated by the nine to five and weekends were entirely free. Today, the same can’t be said. The workplace is more competitive than ever and with more pressure to separate yourself from the crowd, young people are committing more time to their studies, internships and career progression. The result? Few people have time to indulge in their passions and hobbies.
But finding time to do the things you love is integral to living a happy life. Not only do hobbies provide an opportunity to learn new skills, develop long-held interests and restore a work/life balance, but they’re also a great way of meeting new people with shared interests.
So find what interests you, look up local groups and clubs and commit a little time to enjoy what makes you happy.
3. Enforce Your Collective Identity
Have you ever noticed how wearing your team’s football shirt or donning your school leaver’s hoodie bolsters a sense of collective identity? Showcasing the colours and logo of your school, sports team or dance school is a tangible way of connecting yourself to a broader community of people — and that can be a powerful weapon against loneliness.
A recent survey by personalised clothing company Yazzoo found that young people value group identity more highly than their older counterparts, with over 50% of 16-24 year-olds claiming that group identity is as important as individual identity — compared to just 28% of older people surveyed. What does this mean? Taking the time to remind yourself of the communities you belonged to and that shaped the person you’ve become, and fully embracing the comfort of group identity can make you feel like you belong — because you do — and it’s a powerful tonic against loneliness.
4. Create Spaces For Communication
Opening up about your emotions is hard for even the most expressive of us. And yet, talking with peers, parents, friends and even strangers about how we’re feeling is one of the most powerful ways of handling our emotions. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved. So be brave and speak out if you’re feeling lonely and remember your feelings are always valued and important. This doesn’t mean airing your thoughts on social media — nothing can replace hearing a comforting voice at the other end of the phone or a reassuring smile from a loved one as you actually talk and express your emotions in a safe environment.
And don’t forget, there are thousands of resources and supportive people ready to lend an ear if you don’t feel comfortable — or simply don’t want to — talk to your close friends and relatives. If you’re the friend, be open to listen and leave any judgements at the door.
The loneliness epidemic is a troubling sign that something isn’t working in our society, but by taking small steps every day, we can leave loneliness behind.