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Many people feel involuntarily alone and miss the close and intimate they can share thoughts and feelings with. Population surveys have shown that as many as 20 percent of us feel lonely, while up to 80% of people with mental illness experience being lonely.

Photo: by Atharva Tulsi on Unsplash



This is stated in a post on Morgenbladet.no written by Jan Ivar Røssberg (professor and chief physician in psychiatry, University of Oslo [UiO]), Linn Rødevand (research fellow, UiO), and Ole A. Andreassen (professor and chief physician in psychiatry, UiO). 

Depression and loneliness

They refer to research that suggests that up to 80% of People with mental illness experience loneliness. The authors point out that there are complicated connections between mental illness and loneliness. They write:





Lack of social support and other people to share thoughts and feelings with can contribute to the development of a depressive disorder. On the other hand, isolating oneself from others can be a symptom of depression. People with a depression often develop negative thoughts that one is not good enough, is difficult to like, has no future and that it is better for the others that I am not with them.

Depression and the experience of loneliness can further reinforce each other. The authors write:

Often the [depressed] isolate themselves at home without wanting contact with other people. Eventually, there may be a longing for someone to be with, but this longing adds to the range of other depressive symptoms and does not lead to action that could have contributed to feeling less alone. They are thus left alone and ponder over their own negative thoughts and their hopeless life situation.





Such brooding and loneliness perpetuate the depressive symptoms, the article authors believe. 

Severe mental illness and loneliness

The post also addresses loneliness in more serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia. The authors point out here that many of those with such diagnoses have isolated themselves from others before they develop psychotic symptoms.

It is also not difficult to imagine that a person who becomes anxious about the voices they hear in their head (hallucinations) or is afraid that others may read their minds, will isolate themselves and thus have difficulty participating in social activities.

At the same time, it is emphasized that loneliness in itself, as a transient feeling, is not dangerous.

Loneliness can motivate you to seek out contact

On the contrary, feelings of loneliness are important because they signal a need for social contact and motivate them to seek contact, the authors write. They add: 

But for those who experience loneliness over a long period of time, it becomes more difficult to make contact because the brain begins to pay more attention to signs of rejection. Anyone who is aware of signs of rejection will to a greater extent find such signs and experience rejection. Trust in others can thus be weakened and notions that others are unreliable can be strengthened. 

Loneliness can be harmful to health

 The authors of the article also write:

It is now known that loneliness is as dangerous to public health as smoking.

In modern society, we have lost a number of social support structures that are important both for probable causes and the course of mental illness. The authors write:

We have become richer and more efficient - but we have also gained a society where social support has decreased. Modern man must be independent of others. Perhaps the modernization of society and the focus on the individual has contributed to us underestimating the need for others.

Social support can prevent and help get out of mental illness

Social support is important in the prevention and treatment of many of our diseases, the authors of the article emphasize - and perhaps especially when it comes to mental illness. They write:

A recently published study found that poor social support had a negative effect on the course of mental disorders. Most mental disorders can have a better course by the person affected being more socially included. Social conditions have always been considered important contributing factors to human health. This contribution is no less important after we got the internet, social media and smartphones.

 

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