Loneliness & Isolation – as discussed on the RTE TODAY show with Maura Derrane and Daithí Ó Sé.

We can be lonely in a crowded room. We can be lonely in our homes, even in a relationship – if we’re not fully able to be ourselves with somebody. A deeper more shattering loneliness is having nobody to talk to or nobody to meet. Isolation hits all ages and is not gender specific. Can be come about after bereavement, a job loss, after relationship breakdown, family moving on, arriving at older years, moving location etc. Loneliness can impact our mental and physical health.

It can often be a chicken and egg scenario – between depression and loneliness (i.e. difficult t o see what came first). Society has changed: Both rural and urban communities have changed. In urban centres, people don’t know their neighbours anymore. Rural communities and villages are no longer the busy social hubs they once were. Creameries, post offices, Garda stations, pubs, shops and, even churches have closed.

Impact of loneliness and Isolation: It raises our stress hormones, lowers our immunity, leaves us open to depression and illness. It can impact negatively on self-esteem, increase stress, cause insomnia, raises blood pressure – to the extent that we can be more susceptible to heart-attack and strokes. It bring about hyper-vigilance, and accident proneness. This can all amount to a down-ward spiral, time is without purpose, we feel like we’ve nothing to look forward to, feels like an aimless and pointless existence.

More detail on these points:
It is shown that isolation impacts the body at a cellular level. It leads to fight-or-flight stress signalling, which disturbs the production of white blood cells which are vital for a healthy immune system. In this way, isolation lowers the immune system.
Sustained chronic isolation can lead to a reclusive existence described as social isolation. This is how one can become trapped in isolation. The condition prompts an unconscious response that causes one to go into self-preservation mode when alone. Even though we might be motivated to connect with other people, we will feel hyper-vigilant for social threats. We are then more likely to have negative interactions with other people, thus reinforcing the isolation.
Loneliness raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol and raises blood pressure. Some studies show that social isolation can push blood pressure into the danger zone for heart attacks and strokes.
Loneliness can also destroy the quality of sleep, as socially isolated people will wake up more at night, getting less sleep.
The cycle created by social isolation and loneliness can be a downward spiral, with raised stress levels. And raised stress levels increase the likelihood of accidents.
There is still a stigma associated with mental health issues. Attitudes to self-care vary hugely, particularly among men.

Raising awareness: Empowerment
• Know it’s a common problem – you’re not alone – ie. many share this.
• Think about why you are lonely and try to figure what action is best to alleviate it.
• Make new connections – reach out on a good day. Arrange tea/coffee/drink.
• Arrange travel – use taxis with friends – to reduce the cost.
• Volunteering, join a group, or start a group, online community, take up a class.
• Talk to your GP if you are depressed or suicidal – or to a counsellor.
• Don’t compare yourself with others.Don’t restrict yourself from reaching out – by saying I’m too far away, or too sick, or too depressed, or its too expensive, or I’m too skinny/heavy, too young/old etc.
• Peer discussion groups and meeting like-minded people with a different outlook is therapeutic at many levels.
• Social media is not for everybody but apps such as Facebook offer a life-line to many people today.
• Organisations like Alone, SpunOut, Macra na Feirme and the IFA are good.
• Mental health awareness meetings are both impressive and powerful. That is a positive, significant and therapeutic development.
• Look into enjoying your own company – creativity, writing, art, music, exercise.

We owe it to ourselves and to our families to treat our mental health and isolation with the same urgency as physical health issues.

o See Alone.ie
o Call The Samaritans
o See iacp.ie for counsellors nationwide

Tom Evans is a Counsellor & Psychotherapist in Midleton, Cork, Ireland.
Call = 00353 86 3375310 and Lo-call 1890 989 320
Email = tomevans@selfcare.ie