Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 22/3/2018



Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response to isolation and lack of companionship.  This also includes anxious feelings about a lack of connection and communication with other people. Therefore loneliness can be felt even when you are surrounded with other people such as among relatives, friends or at a party.

Many people experience loneliness the first time from breakup, divorce or loss of a significant person in one’s life.  Loneliness can occur in a dysfunctional family where there is a communication problem and love cannot be given or received..

 Loneliness can be transient or chronic. When you are sick and cannot socialise or you move to a different place or a different social environment, the loneliness is transient. When you feel lonely regardless of where you are, even with family or friends, the feeling is chronic.

Loneliness seems to be more common in modern society with smaller household sizes. This is a growing problem in the elderly population living alone and in people who migrate to a new country facing new cultures.

In developing countries, there are more social interaction between neighbours and people in small villages often know and help each other.


Loneliness and mental health

Loneliness can be a symptom of another social or psychological problem such as chronic depression and anxiety.

Loneliness is often linked with depression and is a risk factor for suicide as many depressed people would not attempt suicide when they feel responsible for the welfare of their loved ones such as their children.  Social network and support aretherefore very important for a person’s psychological wellbeing.

In children, a lack of family early in life can be linked to antisocial and self-destructive behaviour.


Loneliness and physical health

Chronic loneliness can be associated with poor health outcome. Some studies showed a link between loneliness and an increased incidence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol level, obesity and hence a higher risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Loneliness can be linked to alcoholism and depression.  I had a Vietnamese patient who came to Australia when he was young as a refugee without any family. He was depressed and drowned his sorrows in alcohol and eventually died from liver cirrhosis just when he started to find happiness with a loving wife and a young baby.


Loneliness versus being alone

There is a clear distinction between feeling lonely and being alone or living in a socially isolated place. Living alone or solitude is the lack of contact with other people. Loneliness is a subjective experience that you need more social interaction than what is currently available.

Loneliness is not just a result of just being alone without friends. It is a deeper problem with feelings of inadequacy, imperfection and shame. The more lonely you feel the more you believe that no-one will ever like or love you and therefore it is difficult for you to communicate due to the belief of potential rejection. You may feel an inner emptiness and isolation and you may perceive a sense of disconnection, rejection and alienation from others.

People can feel lonely in a middle of a crowd due to poor interaction with other people. In contrast, you can be alone and not feeling lonely due to no desire for social interaction.


How to overcome loneliness


1- Acceptance of being alone

Each human being comes into the world alone, lives as a separate individual and eventually dies alone. Being alone is the essence of life.

Loneliness is mainly a subjective feeling

No one can choose where you were born, who would be your parents or how you look like. If your personal social condition cannot be changed, the best thing is to accept it gracefully. If you cannot accept it, you will suffer more and feel depressed. You will find fault in yourself and feel low self–esteem and then you will be anxious in social situation always afraid that you are not accepted.


2- Acceptance of yourself

It is difficult to connect with other people if you are not at peace with yourself.

Do not try to find happiness in the outside world as most of the environmental factors, other people, the social situation cannot be within your power to control.  True happiness is from within.

You may rely on others to make you feel worthy.  Therefore loneliness can be felt more when faced with changes in life, changes or loss of employment, changes of relationship such as separation, divorce or loss of loved ones. Loneliness has a negative impact on your self-worth and self- esteem which could further impair your ability to function.  You may lose the sense of desire and motivation to get involved in new situations and isolate yourself from people.

Choosing to be alone can be enriching for a person. Solitude can be enjoyed as a positive, relaxing and pleasurable experience. People may choose to have time out in retreats to relax and discover about themselves.

True happiness can only be achieved when you have peace and be content with yourself.

Your self –worth is not determined by the perceived approval  from other people but it is the true value of yourself as an individual and everyone has the capacity of being good and loving and not doing harm to other people.

Do not compare yourself with other people as it may lead to a feeling of inferiority and inadequacy.

Practice mindfulness and meditation will help you to find peace, acceptance and have an insight about yourself.  It will help you to regain your self- confidence and then you can relate better with other people to have meaningful relationships.

Practice loving kindness meditation to develop compassion towards yourself and then expand your love to other people and other living beings.

Recognize the importance of being alone and enjoying your solitude. You can have peace, freedom and the opportunity to connect to your deeper self. If you are not comfortable with yourself, you cannot be comfortable with other people.


3- Other practical steps to reduce loneliness:

Once you achieve peace and happiness within yourself.  everything else will be easier. You can then open yourself to meet and connect with other people.

-         Learn to enjoy your solitude: find activities that you can do by yourself such as walking, go to the beach…

-         Find a hobby that you enjoy doing such as photography, art work, music..

-         Spend more time with the people already in your life such as family, friends and acquaintances

-         Find out some volunteer work to help other people such as in aged care community. There is nothing more enjoyable than when you can bring joy to other people in need.

-         Look out for a group to share your interests and hobbies.

Have a pet such as a dog, a cat … The presence of an animal can ease the feeling of depression and loneliness in some people. It can provide opportunities to socialise with other pet owners.