There are certain risk factors that increase our chances of severe and lasting loneliness and that can affect our mental health, such as being single, unemployed, living alone, having a long-term health condition or disability, being a carer or being from an ethnic minority community.
The stigma of loneliness makes it hard to talk about. People worry about being judged or feeling like a burden. Long-term loneliness can impact our mental and physical health. Being lonely for a long time can lead to a negative spiral: loneliness makes it harder to connect, which leads to people being afraid of social situations, meaning it is harder to find joy in life and escape negative thoughts.
Loneliness costs UK employers approximately £2.5bn per year through employee attrition, loss of productivity and sick leave. On 8th May 2022, the government published its ‘Employers and loneliness guidance’ and it states, “having good quality meaningful connections is associated with better outcomes in terms of quality of work, higher wellbeing, and greater engagement in work. Across work roles, a lack of social connection and loneliness can lead to less commitment and productivity and greater absenteeism and staff turnover, and employees who feel lonely appear less approachable to their colleagues. By tackling loneliness and supporting employees to build social connections, employers can ensure a more productive and resilient workforce. Workplaces, where employees have a strong sense of organisational identity, are more able to withstand the effects of recession and maintain performance.” The consultation identified five key themes to tackle loneliness at work:
Culture and infrastructure: Identifying what really matters to employees and aligning with corporate values and embedding loneliness into other wellbeing and welfare activities.
Management: The kinds of support and guidance which can help managers to identify and help the people working for them who are experiencing loneliness and the training that managers might need.
People and networks: How people have used networks to tackle loneliness including whilst working remotely.
Work and workplace design: How employers have tackled a dispersed workforce and the tools and systems which can promote visibility and connections.
Wider role in the community: How some employers have sought to tackle loneliness beyond our immediate workforce.
More information on the guidance can be found here.
The Mental Health Foundation has also shared information on how to support other people who are feeling lonely:
- Don’t judge or stigmatise, it’s a common feeling that we all experience in our lives at some point.
- Try to make groups/clubs welcoming and flexible for people that want to join.
- Try to listen and show understanding to other people, people that are experiencing loneliness will really value it.
The Mental Health Foundation has also shared some coping strategies for people suffering from loneliness:
- Try to do some enjoyable things that will keep you busy, that are fun and fulfilling.
- Try to do things that stimulate your mind, courses or listen to podcasts on topics from comedy and fitness to healthy eating.
- Do some physical activity.
- Try to engage with the people you meet in your daily life.
- Find people that ‘get you’, and connect with them in local groups or on social media.
- Spend time with pets, you can also connect with like-minded people too e.g. out walking your dog.
- Try to use social media in a positive way, and connect with groups you are interested in.
- Talking therapies can help.
For further information, you can download The Mental Health Foundation's loneliness help and advice here.