Let’s do a quick litmus test; have you ever googled “How to stop being lonely?” if you have, you’re definitely not the only one.
Watch The Feed tackle loneliness at the special time of 9:30pm, Thursday 28th February on SBSVICELAND
My friend and I are, like most people who grew up in the MSN era, constantly talking to each other online. There’s not a moment of the day when we don’t have at least one Messenger tab open mid conversation.
We both live in cities, we both have full time jobs, she’s in a long-term committed relationship.
Yet, after being prompted during conversation, we both divulged that we are often wracked with feelings of isolation and loneliness.
She told me that in her most dire hour, she turned to Google to ask ‘How to make friends as an adult?'. I told her that I too have asked the internet how to cure my loneliness.
We also admitted that we opened incognito browsers before starting our search - as if trying to hide our loneliness from ourselves.
It got me thinking:
Why are young people who are seemingly so connected so lonely and why are we afraid to admit it?
It’s not like it’s uncommon.
In fact, half of Australians feel lonely at least one day a week and a quarter of us feel lonely most of the time, according to the Australian Loneliness study.
It's no longer the stereotype of an elderly person waiting for a visit. Statistics show that the group of people who are most likely to be lonely are young people.
What you told us
The Feed put some feelers out to see what kind of shape loneliness takes when it presents in young people. As it turns out, loneliness is as individual as people are.
Some respondents had moved to a new city; others had relationships break down; another group had always found it difficult to connect to others.
The one thing they had in common was the fear or shame of being perceived as alone.
“The idea of being an eccentric old spinster who lives and dies alone is getting nearer every day,” said one responder.
In other situations, the fear of being seen as needy or weird actually stopped people from seeking help or trying harder to make friends.
“I think this is due to me having social anxiety disorder, and a fear of other people finding me annoying or rejecting me.”
Quality over quantity
Loneliness is not the same as being a private person who enjoys solitude.
Sociologist Professor Adrian Franklin says it also has nothing to do with the number of friends you have and everything to do with real connection.
“Loneliness is when people lack high quality, meaningful or strong relationships,” he said.
Humans need to feel they belong to something - a family, their workplace or another kind of community.
“We say that when people's belongingness needs are not being met, they become lonely.”
The thing is, while loneliness might seem trivial to some - it can often turn deadly.
“You can die, it will kill you. It's just as risky as physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol or obesity,” says Professor Franklin.
Professor Franklin says young people are transient - often in an out of jobs and stable relationships.
“Add all those things together with the killer one which is high rates of separation and divorce, which are very, very disruptive and very emotionally hard going, that's why they are the most lonely group,” he said.
You wouldn’t know who’s lonely from social media - that perfectly curated life we create online.
But comparing your everyday life to what is, essentially, someone else’s top moments is a recipe for disaster according to ANU senior lecturer and clinical psychologist Tegan Crewys.
“We tend to compare ourselves to people that we know,” Crewys says.
“We know that they’ve got the same background as us, they did they same degree or they went to the same school but we’re comparing ourselves to the highlight of their lives.”
In reality, you are not in competition with the people you know. Because according to statistics, they probably feel just as lonely as you.
How to stop being lonely?
Crewys agrees with Professor Franklin - it’s not social media making us lonely, it’s how we use it.
It's about using social media to connect with people who you have good relationships with and communities that you care about rather than just comparing yourself.
Crewys says virtual world platforms can be powerful tools in fighting loneliness.
They include MeetUp, a platform that connects people to communities groups and hobby collectives wherever you are in the world.
“Whether that’s our personal identity or a hobby group that you really value. It doesn't really matter what the content is, it's about orienting us towards those collectives and communities - not just individual ties.”
It can be confusing (it is for me at least) when you have connections but still feel alone. But the responsibility - the pressure - shouldn't be just on the individual to have one or two good friends. It’s really a social issue to solve.
“That being a part of a community and collectives is a big part of what makes people feel that sense of belonging,” says Crewys.
If you feel lonely right now, take solace in the fact that a lot of other people do too.
The cure for loneliness isn’t lying the the bowels of a search engine. It's finding a community. It might not be as easy as it sounds, but it is possible.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a group catch up to plan.
If you would like to talk to someone about your mental health, here are some people ready for your call:
• SANE Australia Helpline 1800 18 SANE (7263) www.sane.org
• beyondblue support service line 1300 22 46 36
• Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
• MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au
TROYE SIVAN: SEARCHING FOR COMMUNITY ONLINE