“Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people… it’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else. If you have lots of people around you—perhaps even a husband or wife, or a family, or a busy workplace—but you don’t share anything that matters with them, then you’ll still be lonely.”
~ Johan Hari
In his book Lost Connections, Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression, Johan Hari speaks of nine factors that influence depression and anxiety in the modern world. Among these factors he talks about disconnection from others- loneliness, as a large contributing factor that seems to be causing higher rates of mental health problems.
Some of the research he cites shows that feeling lonely causes your cortisol levels to soar, by as much as when someone physically attacks you.
“Being deeply lonely seemed to cause as much stress as being punched by a stranger.” ~ Johan Hari
Johan also cites research by Lisa Bergman, showing isolated and lonely people are more likely to catch the common cold, and also more likely to die earlier. Loneliness is also shown to cause physical brain changes.
He also discusses research that shows a clear causal link- showing that isolation and loneliness cause depression, and are not merely symptoms of the above. A research study following a group of people in Chicago for many years, showed clearly that isolation and loneliness preceded their depressive symptoms. Only after the isolation and loneliness manifested in their lives, feelings of despair and depression came. Our risk of depression and anxiety increases as we become lonelier and more disconnected.
Think of yourself and the last time you were lonely- maybe you feel lonely now. You would likely have felt sadder, less motivated, and like your life was meaningless. These are all symptoms of a depressive episode.
Johan also cites research showing that structured social activities and active involvement in community organisations are at a steady decline- as much as 45 percent. The average number of close friends Americans had had dropped from 3 to none, in the past decade. Our societies are becoming lonelier and more isolated, and therefore more depressed and anxious.
I’ve seen this again and again in my own clients- they very often feel lonely in this world, or struggle to reach out and connect, especially when they feel anxious and depressed. This is a double-edged sword because depression and anxiety leads one to become more isolated, but research shows that this connection to others is exactly what we need when we feel depressed or anxious.
Humans have always been social beings. We developed and thrived because we were in groups- sharing tasks, tools, looking out for each other and working more effectively and efficiently. Humans were made to need tribes- and the research is backing that up more and more.
This brings me to telling you a bit about my sessions. When we first meet I might ask you some questions that other therapists or professionals haven’t asked you before, like “How many close friends do you have?”, “Who do you go to when you have a bad day?”, “Who knows when you’re struggling?” I probe extensively about my clients’ social connections, and almost always find feelings of loneliness or isolation from others. It is also important to note that being alone and feeling lonely are two very different things. You might not physically be alone, or you might have a lot of contact with people during the day at work or at home but feel alone in the world. If you do not have someone to lean on, a close confidant or one or two people you can tell when you’re struggling, and who will be available to listen and support you, you will suffer from loneliness.
Part of our journey together in therapy will be to look at how to get back to, or create a tribe for you. Every human being is different- some might need large groups of friends and a lot of social contact. Others might be happy with one or two connections and prefer small, intimate gatherings. Our journey is to figure out your needs, and how to meet them. This might include working on communication skills, or hobbies that you enjoy and can share with others, or maybe joining a support group. There are many ways in which our need for connection can be met, and we will find a nuanced, individualised way to do that for you.
Do you feel like you’ve lost connection with others in your life?
Do you want to connect, but the idea feels overwhelming at the moment?
Make an initial appointment and we can discuss how to address these problems. You can contact me here
I also highly recommend Johan Hari’s book- Lost Connection. You can find it here: