A first-of-its-kind report has found young adults suffer loneliness more than seniors and are more susceptible to social anxiety and symptoms of depression.
Chronic loneliness is on the rise in Australia, according to a first-of-its-kind report that found young people are most affected by social isolation.
Australia’s most comprehensive study of loneliness revealed that 62 per cent of people aged 18-35 feel they lack companionship, compared to just 46 per cent of seniors.
The Australian Loneliness Report, led by The Australian Psychological Society, or APS and Swinburne University of Technology found that people aged over 65 are the least lonely age group, and report better physical and mental health.
Acute loneliness among young adults stems from high levels of social interaction anxiety.
Meeting people at parties, thinking of things to talk about, mixing with unfamiliar people and interacting with attractive people were found to be the most challenging situations.
Loneliness linked to health issues
Researchers surveyed more than 1,600 Australians and found that one in four adults are lonely.
They link social isolation with poor quality of life, adding that the findings are concerning from a health perspective.
People with higher loneliness levels report more physical health symptoms, including sleeping difficulties, headaches, stomach complaints, nausea, colds and infections.
It's also detrimental compromises psychological health, with sufferers reporting higher levels of depression, anxiety, social difficulties and loss of confidence.
APS president Ros Knight has called for governments to consider the impacts of loneliness, adding that interventions strategies need to be built into health policy.
“These findings are important as they demonstrate that loneliness is a health issue. We need to consider approaches to loneliness as part of our health and mental health strategy.”
Quality over quantity
They report defines loneliness as a set of feelings of distress people experience when their social relations are not the way they would like.
It states that loneliness is not synonymous with feeling alone, as people can be surrounded by people but still feel lonely.
Nearly a third of Australians don’t feel part of a group of friends, while one in four don’t feel they have a lot in common with the people around them.
Dr Michelle Lim MAPS, of Swinburne University and scientific chair of the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness, said the results highlight the importance of establishing strong and meaningful relationships.
She said quality over quantity is key.
“More often than not, people are surrounded by friends. But if these friendships do not meet a person’s needs, such as feeling supported or connected, then they will still feel lonely even if they have many friends,” Dr Lim said.
“If you don’t know where to start when it comes to making new friends, focus on the relationships you already have. Quality is more important than quantity. Strengthening existing relationships and building intimacy is important."
While APS President, Ros Knight has advised those suffering loneliness to seek professional help.
“Talking to a psychologist can help you overcome social difficulties, including social anxiety. It can also help you learn communication skills that can improve your relationships. We’re never too old to learn new skills, especially when it comes to enjoying the benefits of good relationships.”