Chronic loneliness is a question that is rarely discussed at national level, but it affects more and more people of all ages, according to Australian researchers.
A new study by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and Swinburne University of Technology, released on Friday, has shown that one in four Australians experiences the feelings of loneliness and almost 30 percent of them feel they are not part of a friendship circle.
Lead researcher Dr Michelle Lim, from Swinburne University, said she was surprised at the extent of loneliness in Australia.
"The problem is much more widespread than I previously thought," said Dr Lim The new daily.
"We used quite conservative estimates [in the study]. Respondents were very high on the scale because we would actually say that this person is alone. "
Dr Lim said that people with higher loneliness levels also reported more physical health symptoms, including sleep disorders, headache, stomach injury, nausea, colds and infections.
The Australian loneliness report investigated around 1600 Australians across all age groups and walks in life. It also found that one in four people experiences significant social difficulties or social anxiety.
While most people are related to technology or social media, one in four respondents said they did not feel they had much in common with the people around them.
APS president and Macquarie University's psychology clinic director Ros Knight said there were many reasons why someone could feel alone.
"It may be a parent stuck at home and taking care of a young baby and feeling completely isolated from his colleagues, or even family members and friends, if everyone is gone do their own things," said Knight.
"Then we have career growth, who spent all of their adult lives, traveling and building their careers, doing all the best stuff and then coming to the mid 40's looking around and realizing they have no one to share with. "
Ms. Knight told me The new daily that social media has changed the dynamics of relationships, but digital technology is not entirely guilty.
"To say that it's because the technology would be wrong," she said.
"But for some people, if it becomes their only source of socialization, for example, if they are not engaged with family or neighbors or friends, then there will be a [negative] effect."
Busier's lifestyles, career pressure and lack of time to socialize all contribute to increasing loneliness in modern society, says Knight.
"Many things have changed over the years that have led to this position. Interestingly, from our Australian test, they did the oldest best," she said.
"It suggests that people who have grown up in a community where they went to social events, school groups, were involved in local sports and maybe religious groups learned to create and retain friends.
"And I also think it's the generation that was less likely to move everywhere. The generation since then was much more mobile."
Learn to reconnect
One of the ways of dealing with loneliness is to focus on quality, rather than the number of relationships in your life, said Mr. Knight.
"The first tip is to think about who you've lost out of your network in the latest story, maybe because you've traveled a lot and it's been hard to connect," she said.
"Start by thinking about your previous connections. In fact, make a conscious decision to reconnect with some people."
According to the study, fewer Australians linked their neighbors, with three out of four people admitting they did not talk to the person living next to it.
This is a lost opportunity, according to Ms Knight.
"It's an important relationship for many reasons. It's a great place to start when it comes to practicing skills and trying to build a connection, to see if you want the relationship to move on," she says.
"You have to start somewhere, and neighbors are a really good place to start engaging.
"If you think someone may be alone, visit them for a chat. Invite them for a coffee. Maybe suggest connections for them."
If feelings of loneliness deteriorate, or the individual begins to experience depression or severe anxiety, it is important to seek professional help, said Knight.
She recommended to talk with a doctor about your symptoms and request a Medicare-billed referral to a psychologist.
"The good news is that an individual can do a lot to deal with loneliness. Social anxiety is treatable," says Mr. Knight.