Feeling depressed, anxious, or lonely sometimes is a normal part of being human–we all need other people in our lives and social connection to pursue meaningful work, play, and love. But sometimes, when loneliness persists and won’t let go or makes it difficult to function in your day-to-day life, it may be signaling deeper issues that a trusted mental health professional can help address.
Loneliness is emerging as a national public health crisis and has been shown to contribute to mental health issues such as depression
for both adolescents and adults. Because of this, national media outlets including the Associated Press
, The New York Times
, and others have lauded and promoted the US Surgeon General's recent advisory which promotes social connection
as the key to combatting rising rates of loneliness and isolation in the United States. Riggs Director of Research Katie Lewis, PhD
, is researching and publishing about issues related to loneliness and mental health currently, and the importance of relationships has long been a core value of the treatment at Riggs.
What are Some of the Causes of Loneliness?
The causes of loneliness are often interrelated and complex. Stressful life events like divorce, illness, or loss of a partner/spouse may cause feelings of loneliness, along with life transitions such as retirement, moving to a new place, or experiencing trauma or conflict.
Separately, individuals who belong to historically marginalized groups or those who have lost their community in some fashion may be at higher risk of experiencing loneliness.
It is important to draw a distinction between loneliness and being alone. Loneliness is a felt experience that can occur whether someone is physically alone or not and may have more to do with feeling like one does not belong, is not seen, or is not valued and validated by those around them.
What are Some of the Effects of Loneliness?
Loneliness has ramifications well beyond the psychological distress it can cause in the moment. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that social isolation and loneliness put individuals at “higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death” (NIMH, 2019
) Chronic loneliness has been demonstrated to increase cortisol levels in the body, which can lead to excess weight gain, muscular weakness, concentration issues, and more (Medical News Today, 2020
). In addition, researchers have found that "lonely individuals process the world in a way that is dissimilar to their peers and to each other." (Science Alert, 2023