We all feel lonely from time to time. Feelings of loneliness are personal, so everyone's experience of loneliness will be different.
One common description of loneliness is the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met. But loneliness is not always the same as being alone.
You may choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while others may find this a lonely experience.
Or you may have lots of social contact, or be in a relationship or part of a family, and still feel lonely – especially if you don't feel understood or cared for by the people around you
Is loneliness a mental health problem?
Feeling lonely isn't in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely.
For example, some people may have misconceptions about what certain mental health problems mean, so you may find it difficult to speak to them about your problems (see our pages on tips for dealing with stigma).
Or you may experience social phobia – also known as social anxiety – and find it difficult to engage in everyday activities involving other people, which could lead to a lack of meaningful social contact and cause feelings of loneliness.
"I want to be able to interact with people and make new connections but my anxiety feels like an invisible barrier that I can't break through."]
What causes loneliness?
Loneliness has many different causes, which vary from person to person. We don't always understand what it is about an experience that makes us feel lonely.
For some people, certain life events may mean they feel lonely, such as:
experiencing a bereavementgoing through a relationship break-up retiring and losing the social contact you had at work changing jobs and feeling isolated from your co-workers starting at university moving to a new area or country without family, friends or community networks.
Other people find they feel lonely at certain times of the year, such as around Christmas.
Some research suggests that people who live in certain circumstances, or belong to particular groups, are more vulnerable to loneliness. For example, if you:
have no friends or familyare estranged from your family are a single parent or care for someone else – you may find it hard to maintain a social life belong to minority groups and live in an area without others from a similar background are excluded from social activities due to mobility problems or a shortage of money experience discrimination and stigma because of a disability or long-term health problem, including mental health problems experience discrimination and stigma because of your gender, race or sexual orientation have experienced sexual or physical abuse – you may find it harder to form close relationships with other people.
"When I suffered from anorexia it fed into so many areas of life. It was all consuming. One of those areas was loneliness. It was something that I felt for such a long time."
Some people experience deep and constant feelings of loneliness that come from within and do not disappear, regardless of their social situation or how many friends they have.
There are many reasons people experience this kind of loneliness. You might feel unable to like yourself or to be liked by others, or you may lack self-confidence.
How can I manage loneliness?
Some people find these ideas useful, but remember that different things work for different people at different times. Only try what you feel comfortable with, and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. If something isn't working for you (or doesn't feel possible just now), you can try something else, or come back to it another time.
Take it slow
If you've felt lonely for a long time, even if you already know lots of people, it can be terrifying to think about trying to meet new people or opening up to people for the first time.
But you don't need to rush into anything.
Start off by going somewhere like a cafe, the cinema or a sports event where you can be around people, but not be expected to talk to them – you may find that simply being around other people is enough to help with your feelings of loneliness.
If you're going to a group or class, you could ask whoever runs the class or group if you can just go along and watch at first. Go somewhere it's not expected that you'll interact straight away, like a class where everyone is focused on an activity.
Loneliness and mental health
Watch Lee's vlog on how overcoming his loneliness started with talking to people online and getting involved a mental health campaign.
Make new connections
If you are feeling lonely because of a lack of satisfying social contact in your life, you could try to meet more, or different people.
Try to join a class or group based on your hobbies or interests. See our page of useful contacts for ways to find groups that interest you. If you are able to, volunteering is a good way of meeting people.
Helping others can also really help improve your mental health. It is also a good idea to check that you will receive adequate support from the organization you are volunteering at. See our page of useful contacts for organizations that can help you find local volunteering opportunities.
Try peer support
There are many different types of peer support service, which provide people with a space to use their own experiences to help and support each other, including experiences of loneliness and related mental health problems..
These are some different types of peer support which you may find useful:.
Try a befriend er service. Various charities offer telephone and face-to-face befriended service's, which put volunteer befriend in touch with people feeling lonely. See our page of useful contacts for details of organizations that run befriended services..
Join an online community like Side by Side. These communities can provide a place to listen and share with others who have similar experiences. They are available 24/7, most are free and you can access them wherever you are. See our pages on online mental health for some more suggestions.
Try to open up
You might feel that you know plenty of people, but what is actually wrong is that you don't feel close to them, or they don't give you the care and attention you need.
In this situation it might help to open up about how you feel to friends and family.
If you don't feel comfortable opening up to the people you know, you could try speaking with a therapist or a using a peer support service.
Talking therapies allow you to explore and understand your feelings of loneliness and can help you develop positive ways of dealing with them. For example, therapy can provide a space for you to discuss the emotional problems that make it hard for you to form satisfying relationships.
If anxiety about social situations has made you feel isolated, cognitive behaviorism therapy (CBT) may help. This focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behavior, and teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems.
Be careful when comparing yourself to others It is very hard to stop comparing ourselves to others. We all do it, but it can help to just be aware that things are not always what they seem from the outside. For example on social media, we very often only see what other people want to share about their lives, and this can make us feel like we are the only ones feeling lonely. It's important to remind yourself that you don't know how other people feel when they are alone, or when their social media feeds are turned off. If you're worried that social media might be affecting your mental health, see our information on online mental health. And if you have a lack of confidence in yourself or your life when compared to others, and you think that this might be contributing to your feelings of loneliness, our information on self-esteem may help. "I sometimes feel lonely when I am overwhelmed by human information – the news, social media, TV, negative gossip etc. – I feel so separate and different to most people."
"I never feel lonely when I'm in nature. I feel more connected than ever when I'm walking alone through a wood or by a river."