By Kurt Morris
Loneliness has received a lot of press over the past few years. A 2018 study by the insurance company, Aetna, stated, “nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone.” The group that reported the highest rates of loneliness were those between the ages of 18 and 22. In England, a 2017 BBC survey of 55,000 individuals found the loneliest group were those ages 16 to 24.
All too often there is confusion between “loneliness” and “being alone”. Loneliness is a mental state, whereas being alone is something that is objective. If I was the only person in a room you could say, “Kurt is alone.” You can observe that. But I could be in a room with dozens of people and still feel lonely. That’s because loneliness is about the quality of the connections, not the quantity.
There are many reasons why those in their teens and early twenties feel lonely. It’s easy to blame social media and the isolation it can cause one to feel. (For example, you may see the curated images of happiness projected through the social media pages of acquaintances and start to feel bad that you’re sitting at home missing out on fun activities.)
From my experience, though, it was my mental illness that caused me to feel lonely at that age. There has been a great deal progress when it comes to eliminating the stigma around mental health issues in the past few decades. Yet it can still be difficult to talk about what one is experiencing.
The weight of depression and the sadness it creates can seem illogical. I felt ashamed of having the feelings of depression when my life was, by all accounts, quite good. It was hard to explain to family and friends how sad I was and why I didn’t want to live anymore.
I felt unable to talk about my mental health. I didn’t believe anyone could connect with what I was experiencing, which made the struggle even more difficult. It wasn’t until much later in my twenties that I felt comfortable sharing my story and genuinely telling others when I was struggling.
My life would’ve been much easier in my teens if I would’ve spoken up about my mental health and known there were people there to speak with me about it. Instead, loneliness compounded my mental illness.
It can be hard to break out of loneliness, especially the type brought about by mental health issues. I found connections with others in my life even when I was depressed, but it was much easier once I was in a mentally stable place.
It’s important that individuals feel connected while working toward managing their mental health. A lot of healing can happen in healthy relationships. That may mean joining a peer support group. It may also mean creating an environment where individuals are comfortable sharing their experiences. I found connections through volunteering, taking yoga classes, traveling and exploring my city. Whatever the case, finding connections is a key aspect to building a healthy mental state.
Kurt Morris is a volunteer with Families for Depression Awareness. To learn about Kurt and read more of his offerings, check out his website.
• Caring adults can make a difference. Watch our Teen Webinar to learn how to communicate and support teens in your life.
• Massachusetts teens can connect to their peers by volunteering for our Teen Speaker program.
• You can encourage the teen in your life to check out our Instagram page where they will find inspirational messages and age-appropriate educational content about depression.