Can loneliness be considered a health risk?

“You know it’s a difficult thing to admit you are lonely”.

A friend was relaying a story to me this week and shared this observation; and I’ve thought about it so much since then. A few days ago I asked what word describes the most difficult time of the early postpartum period for new Mums; and the most common response was “loneliness”.

Apparently loneliness equates to smoking 3 cigarettes a day in terms of health risk; and in a world that is more and more digitally connected; real-life loneliness is definitely on the up.

I treated the most delightful 84 year old lady this week who shared some fascinating insights with me regarding how loneliness impacts on her. She resides on her own, and lives for the music she plays twice a week for audiences. “It’s kept me alive as it gets me out my apartment”, she says. “Without it, my world would be so small”. Recently, she spent 3 days in her apartment after being unwell and then says she felt incredibly overwhelmed when needing to go out to the shops. “I realised then, I mustn’t ever do that again. Or else I will become nervous to go out.”

When I asked what she did for last Christmas, she replied “I was on my own at home. For years I’ve spent the day with well-meaning friends as an extra, but to be honest I enjoy having it on my own. I buy lots of treats and make it my own special day, rather than making small talk with people I don’t really know. I tell everyone who invites me, that I’m already going elsewhere. And because I choose to be on my own. I don’t find it at all lonely or sad”.

“Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely.”

Her words have made me think about solitude that is embraced by choice, versus loneliness where you would rather be with others, but don’t have the opportunity to be.

As the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic; what is the impact of forced isolation going to be on a society where so many are already so vulnerable to the disease of loneliness?

What has the impact of forced isolation been on you during this time? I know that it has been tough even on those who find comfort in solitude.