Loneliness and mental health

Loneliness can emerge when we seek deeper connections with others, and long for more genuine friendships and meaningful relationships. The absence of these connections can leave us feeling alone and sad, which can also negatively impact our mental health.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is an unpleasant feeling that arises when you are seeking more meaningful and genuine connections and relationships.

When you’re experiencing loneliness, you may be feeling:

  • Sad or down
  • Empty
  • Worthless
  • Misunderstood
  • Lost
  • Abandoned.

Humans are social creatures who thrive on reliable connections with other people. Meaningful relationships help prevent loneliness and support mental wellbeing.

That’s not to say you should never be alone. Enjoying your own company is healthy and gives you space to recharge.

But if your feelings of loneliness are causing you distress, you may want to reach out for support or adapt some strategies for coping with loneliness.


What is the difference between social isolation and loneliness?

Social isolation and loneliness are different. Social isolation occurs because of a person’s physical circumstances that results in having few social connections. Social isolation is objective. On the other hand, loneliness is how someone feels and is subjective.

Reasons for social isolation can include:

  • Geographic location
  • Lack of mobility
  • Financial barriers
  • Language barrier
  • Irregular working hours
  • Lack of phone or internet access.


Aloneness and loneliness are not the same

Loneliness doesn’t always occur from simply spending a lot of time alone.

You can be alone and not feel lonely if you have close networks and strong, supportive relationships. And, even with plenty of friends and a lively social media network, you can still feel incredibly lonely. If you feel lonely, you are lonely.


What causes loneliness?

Loneliness is quite common in Australia[1]:

  • 32% of Australians report feeling moderately lonely.
  • 15% of Australians often/always feel lonely.

Isolation is one of the major causes of loneliness (though not all people who are isolated will experience feelings of loneliness).

Other causes of loneliness may come from a change in your circumstances, such as:

  • Starting a new school or job
  • Moving into a new area or home
  • Becoming a parent
  • Ending a relationship
  • Dealing with the loss of a loved one
  • Having a chronic illness
  • Changing habits and therefore not sharing the same interests as others
  • Adjusting to the kids leaving home.


How does loneliness impact your mental health?

Loneliness can cause you to feel a range of negative emotions that may affect your mental health.

In addition to feeling sad, empty or misunderstood, you might also think that you deserve to be alone and that no one cares about you. These self-critical thoughts are often not true and can leave you feeling worse. Try addressing these feelings before they escalate by focusing on the real reasons and causes (see examples above) of why you might feel lonely.

While loneliness is not a mental health condition, there is a growing body of evidence[2][3] linking long-term loneliness with a range of mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety and stress.

Loneliness may affect other habits that contribute to mental health conditions, too. For example, in 2017, researchers found a link between loneliness and poor sleep quality[4] in young adults. Not getting enough sleep can influence your mood and mental wellbeing.

Loneliness doesn’t just impact your mental health – it can also play a role in your physical health. In a 2015 study[5], people who experienced loneliness were more at risk of developing a range of health conditions. More research is needed, but some studies have found that loneliness may be associated with increased heart disease, elevated blood pressure, and an increased risk of stroke[6].

If you’re feeling lonely, it’s essential to address your feelings early on and intervene before things escalate.


How to manage feelings of loneliness and reduce mental health risks

Connecting with people

To combat loneliness, aim to increase your meaningful social interactions. Keep in touch with the people who make you feel better and bring out the best in you.

  • Put aside time to reconnect with an old friend or family member.
  • Suggest meeting up with someone in person. It can be as simple as a walk or a coffee meet-up.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that life is unpredictable. It may not always be possible to see someone in person. If you can’t be physically present with your family and friends, you can:

  • Organise phone calls and video chats
  • Send emails
  • Set up private chat groups on WhatsApp or Facebook.


You can also meet new people by joining a local club, signing up for a class, or volunteering. Your local council website or library will usually have information on what is available in your area. Ending Loneliness also has an online directory for anyone looking for local connections in person or online.



As pets provide consistent affection and companionship, they may help to reduce the loneliness associated with isolation. They also need attention and exercise, which can give you a sense of purpose and help you establish healthy routines. In 2019, researchers from the University of Sydney[7] reported that dog owners felt a reduction in loneliness within three months of getting a pet. For more on the benefits and important considerations of owning a pet, visit the RSPCA website.


Looking after yourself

When you are feeling lonely, you may forget to look after yourself. Make self-care part of your routine by:

  • Keeping active. The Better Health Channel has a range of exercise programs and tips for staying motivated.
  • Eating a balanced diet. Cut back on processed foods where you can and add more fruit and vegetables. Learn more from the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.
  • Make time for relaxation during the week. Reading, listening to music, watching your favourite TV show, or practising mindfulness are some ideas you can try.
  • Treating yourself. Do something you enjoy.
  • Sleeping well. The average adult should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily.


And finally, remember that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to your social network. Staying connected to others and building meaningful social relationships can help to reduce your risk of loneliness.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by loneliness and it is impacting your life, you can reach out to your mental health professional or a free service like SuicideLine Victoria.


Don’t let it build up. SuicideLine Victoria is a free 24/7 telephone and online counselling service offering professional support to people who are concerned about their emotional and mental health. Call 1300 651 251 or click on the chat button on the right for online counselling. If it is an emergency, call 000.




[1] State of the National Report Social Connection in Australia 2023 https://lonelinessawarenessweek.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/state-of-nation-social-connection-2023.pdf

[2] Survey of Health and Wellbeing – Monitoring the Impact of COVID-19 https://www.swinburne.edu.au/media/swinburneeduau/research-institutes/iverson-health/Loneliness-in-COVID-19-15-07-20_final.pdf

[3] Mushtaq R, Shoib S, Shah T, Mushtaq S. Relationship between loneliness, psychiatric disorders and physical health ? A review on the psychological aspects of loneliness. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014 Sep;8(9):WE01-4. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2014/10077.4828. Epub 2014 Sep 20. PMID: 25386507; PMCID: PMC4225959.

[4] Matthews T, Danese A, Gregory AM, Caspi A, Moffitt TE, Arseneault L. Sleeping with one eye open: loneliness and sleep quality in young adults. Psychol Med. 2017 Sep;47(12):2177-2186. doi: 10.1017/S0033291717000629. Epub 2017 May 17. PMID: 28511734; PMCID: PMC5551384.

[5] Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Baker M, Harris T, Stephenson D. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015 Mar;10(2):227-37. doi: 10.1177/1745691614568352. PMID: 25910392.

[6] Ending Loneliness Together in Australia White Paper 2020

[7] Powell, L., Edwards, K.M., McGreevy, P. et al. Companion dog acquisition and mental well-being: a community-based three-arm controlled study. BMC Public Health 19, 1428 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-7770-5

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