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The experience of loneliness on mental health

By  Gbonjubola Abiri
23 May 2022   |   3:24 am
According to a global survey, about 33 percent of adults experience feelings of loneliness worldwide. The study showed Brazil had the highest percentage of people experiencing this, with 50 percent of respondents declaring that they felt lonely ...

[FILES] A telecommunications firm has planned to hold a health talk series with the theme “COVID-19 and the New Normal: Staying Mentally Healthy in the face of the Challenges”

According to a global survey, about 33 percent of adults experience feelings of loneliness worldwide. The study showed Brazil had the highest percentage of people experiencing this, with 50 percent of respondents declaring that they felt lonely either often, always, or sometimes. Turkey, India, and Saudi Arabia followed, with 43 percent to 46 percent of respondents experiencing loneliness occasionally.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to highlight how crucial it is to feel connected with others, and this subject matter has since steered discussions around loneliness and mental health as it relates to the global community.

As we consider the impact of the pandemic and look towards shaping current conversations in mental health care to make them fit for the future, the Mental Health Foundation earlier in the year announced ‘loneliness’ as the theme for mental health awareness week 2022.

The organization’s statement reads, “One in four adults feel lonely some or all of the time. There’s no single cause and there’s no one solution. After all, we’re all different! But, the longer we feel lonely, the more we are at risk of mental health problems. Some people are also at higher risk of feeling lonely than others”.

“For Mental Health Awareness Week this year, we’re raising awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental health and the practical steps we can take to address it. “We hope this year’s theme of loneliness will strike a chord with many of us who felt lonely and struggled throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said.

Loneliness is a significant public health issue. It is a universal human emotion that is both complex and unique to each individual and remains one of the key indicators of poor mental health. Long-term feelings of loneliness have also been shown to be associated with higher rates of mortality and poorer physical health outcomes.

While common definitions of loneliness describe it as a state of solitude or being alone, loneliness is actually a state of mind. Loneliness causes people to feel empty, alone, and unwanted. Researchers suggest that loneliness is associated with social isolation, poor social skills, introversion, and depression.

The Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health in a Pandemic research found that loneliness has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic forced us to confront loneliness in a new way. Social distancing restrictions and lockdowns meant many more people faced social isolation and loneliness.

During the lockdowns, for instance, many people struggled with loneliness and isolation as they were separated from friends and family. Moving to university can also be a lonely time, as you leave behind your school friends and communities to make new ones.

For people living with a mental health condition, stigma or difficulty socializing can cause feelings of loneliness, which in turn worsen their mental health. A recent report on the psychology of loneliness explains that social anxiety and dementia can lead to a “downward spiral of loneliness.”

This vicious cycle can be difficult to break without the right support but, as the report also explains, opening up about loneliness can be hard. The personal nature of loneliness and the stigma attached to it means people often suffer in silence and deny their experiences.

In Nigeria, the prevalence of loneliness, depression and anxiety has enabled more open-ended discussions amongst its teeming population. This has also necessitated the rise of several mental health facilities and health care organizations to step up and cater to demand for mental health care in the country.

Dealing with loneliness can be difficult. But there are things we can all do to cope with loneliness and prevent some of the negative feelings and mental health problems that can come with it.

Having contributed significantly to the quality of healthcare in Nigeria and stepping up as first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa’s leading multi-specialist hospital, Paelon Memorial Hospital increased their efforts towards dealing with post-pandemic care.

Addressing the issue of mental health, some of the services Paelon offers include executive health checks, fitness for work assessment, occupational health assessment, medical underwriting, school entry health checks, drug and alcohol tests and customized health assessments.

The health facility also boasts of tools and in-house competence to diagnose preteen, teen and adolescent mental health disorders. Their resident family physicians and visiting specialists also provide counselling and are also able to diagnose mental health issues in adults and provide basic counselling to individuals and families.

Tackling loneliness in and of itself more broadly is ultimately a cross society endeavor. We need transparency on the extent of need and a robust response with proper support throughout the system, as part of a post-pandemic recovery approach.

It is hoped that Mental Health week will raise awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental wellbeing and the practical steps we can take to address it.

We must work together as individuals, as a society and through government policy-to reduce loneliness and prevent mental health problems by investing in welcoming, social spaces and new community initiatives.
Abiri MBBS, Consultant Psychiatrist and Lecturer, wrote this to commemorate the Mental Health Awareness Week 2022.

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