Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health issue, however if you are suffering with mental health issues then isolation can seem a natural way for you to protect yourself from the judgement or passing interest of others. Equally so being isolated and feeling alone can negatively affect good mental health and wellbeing. Isolation and loneliness are strongly linked and having a mental ill health problem does increase your chances of feeling alone, and feeling lonely can have an adverse effect on your mental health – an ever decreasing circle.
Most people need some kind of social interaction with others on a regular basis to maintain good mental health, regardless of varying social needs.
Whether your child is a person who likes their own company or is content with a few close friends, or needs large groups of family and friends around them to make them happy, the issue isn’t being alone it’s about feeling lonely and isolated and there is a tangible difference.
There are a number of areas we need to consider:
- Is their isolation inflicted by others through manipulation or bullying?
- Is it self-inflicted through a sense of self-preservation?
- Or is it due to geography and lack of friends living near them?
Consider what makes your child lonely
As we have already said, being alone is not the same as being lonely. There is nothing wrong with your child being on their own if they’re comfortable with this; however, if they’re feeling that being alone is something that isn’t by choice then this needs to be resolved.
Young People can describe feeling lonely for one of a few reasons:
- They simply don’t see or talk to anyone their own age due to geography
- Even though they’re surrounded by other young people, they don’t feel understood, accepted or that anyone actually cares
- They are not accepted by the crowd and isolated through manipulative and bullish practices by their peers
- Their only form of socialising is via their phone or tablet in isolated spaces such as their bedrooms, a computer/games room etc
Identifying if one, or a combination of these, apply to them may be the start they need to help them to find ways of feeling better.
Encourage your child to make new friends or reconnect with past friends
Just as our bodies use hunger to tell us that we need food, loneliness is a way that our minds tell us that we need more social contact.
In the simplest of terms we can ease feelings of loneliness by trying to meet more, or different, people and our children and young people are no different.
We can help them by suggesting different things that they have an interest in such as art, cooking, sport, youth groups such as Scouts, BB, GB, Guides etc as this will connect them with new groups of children and young people? If you’re not sure what’s available in your local area, go online, look in local papers, speak to other Mum’s & Dad’s, ask the school, go onto local church websites and leisure centres as this will give you some inspiration.
Take a chance and reach out
You might feel that your child needs to talk to someone as they don’t seem to want to share their thoughts and feelings with the family, maybe one of your friends might be who they would trust or one of their friends parents. If they don’t want to do that why don’t you suggest them talking to one of our Uberheroes on our website…
Ask an Uberhero a Question
Or alternatively they could reach out to other helplines and speak to someone:-
Remember be encouraging as meeting new people can be daunting
If your child has been feeling isolated and alone for some time, being pushed or forced into new groups to meet new people, or opening up to people for the first time could be terrifying for them. Planting encouraging seeds is a great way to start, especially if you have identified a few activities that you think would appeal to your child, suggesting these, with no pressure attached, will be less frightening for them to consider.
Be careful not to compare your child
It’s hard not to compare your children or the children in your wider family and friendship circles but it’s important to stop doing this if that has happened in the past. We all have a unique set of skills, interests, likes and dislikes, no two children are the same, even within the same family. To be compared to someone suggests that the person they are being compared to is better, smarter, sportier, more creative or whatever and for those other kids in the neighbourhood we have no way of knowing what we see is actually how they are at home or how they feel inside.
Social media, can be a great example of this, no-one wants to post something negative about them, in fact they will only share what they want other people to see and know about their lives, this can be very negative if others are judging their popularity by the perceived images and messages being posted, which may not be at all true. Social media can be a good way to connect with others who have shared interests or as a network for other groups such as a FB page for a youth club.
We need to remind our children that no-one really knows what’s happening in the lives of other children when they are alone and their social media feeds are off.
If your child would feel safer and more confident going to a group where they could meet kids their age and you could meet parents why not try somewhere like www.meetup.com a website where you can find face–to-face groups of people who have a shared interest and meet in person on a regular basis.