This powerful quote is one eighteen quotes from people who have opened up about their childhood and what it is like to grow up with Chronic loneliness.  

The impact of loneliness, particularly chronic loneliness, can be far reaching and effect mental health and physical health throughout childhood and into adulthood.   In this blog we will consider why loneliness occurs, the impact on mental health and how we can help children and young people who feel lonely.

According to the organisation Campaign to End Loneliness: 

Feeling lonely is a subjective and unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation.  Essentially it  is the gap in perception between the need and desire for social contact and relationships, and our perception that those needs are not being met.

So, it is not about being alone, indeed, some people are happy, content and thrive in isolation. 

Roots of loneliness

There is some research to suggest that aspects of childhood loneliness stem from early parent child relationships and attachment.  Key factors being the importance of closeness, consistency, openness, trust and a sense of belonging in childhood. Certainly, if we look into attachment theory you might draw that conclusion, particularly if we think about chronic loneliness occurring because someone has felt lonely for long periods of time.  Those early parent child connections are so important for brain development and healthy self-esteem development.

However, we do need to consider that there is more to feeling lonely than just attachment theory and that a persons perceived feeling of loneliness is essentially subjective and an internal experience based on 3 factors:

  • Early attachments, nurture and behaviour modelling
  • Nature – personality and genetics
  • Life events – things that happen to us.

Impact on mental health and well-being

We can see from the quote at the beginning, that the reasons we believe we are lonely can become internalised as fact (in this case ‘a firm conviction’ ) and our sense of self and self-esteem becomes effected,  particularly if loneliness lasts for prolonged periods of time. This can lead to a loss of confidence and influence our behaviour causing us to withdraw contact from others and become further isolated, potentially leading to mental health difficulties including low mood, depression, substance misuse and anxiety.

What will help?

According to the Action for Children report entitled Looking into the impact of loneliness in children, young people and families; ‘initiatives which focus on general self-efficacy and competence, self-esteem, and on building social skills and positive relationships would seem to have some potential for …protection against chronic loneliness.’

As well as developing these skills and attributes through initiatives, there’s opportunity to reinforce consistency, openness, trust and a sense of belonging through the adult child relationships in school.

For further ideas and a greater understanding on whole school initiatives which impact on loneliness access the latest webinar from The National College:

Addressing Childhood Loneliness to Promote Wellbeing and Prevent Future Mental Health Issues

We have developed a recommended watchlist of mental health and wellbeing related webinars with subject-matter expert, Anna Bateman: