Understanding the differences between social isolation and loneliness

Social isolation and loneliness, despite sounding similar, are in fact quite different. Understand the differences between social isolation and loneliness.

Most people have experienced a period of social isolation or loneliness during their life.

Social isolation and loneliness are becoming more and more recognised as social problems. There is growing evidence to suggest that loneliness will become an epidemic with real consequences for the wellbeing and even physical health of society.

Social isolation and loneliness, despite sounding similar, are in fact quite different.

  • Social isolation results from a person’s physical circumstances
  • Loneliness is a feeling that results from a person’s state of mind.


What is social isolation?

Social isolation is something that is objective. This allows researchers to define and identify it, by looking at the nature and size of a person’s social network.

Social isolation refers to conditions that result in physical isolation:

  • Geographic isolation
  • Lack of mobility (due to disability or illness)
  • Legal or financial barriers to driving
  • Language barrier
  • Irregular work hours
  • Difficulty in communicating (physical or mental conditions)
  • Lack phone or internet access.


What is loneliness?

Loneliness is something that is subjective. This means researchers cannot easily define or identify it by just looking at a person’s social network.

Loneliness describes how a person perceives their situation.

A person can feel lonely even though they are not socially isolated, and have contact with other people. Loneliness is a feeling of distress that occurs when the quality and quantity of a person’s social relationships are perceived to be inadequate.


Further reading

To find out more about loneliness, refer to these articles:


Support for loneliness

If you or someone you care about is feeling lonely, there are actions you can take. Our qualified counsellors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help you discuss your feelings and find strategies to improve things.


If you or someone you know is struggling and want to speak to a professional counsellor, SuicideLine Victoria is available 24/7. Call us on 1300 651 251.

If it is an emergency, call 000.

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