Loneliness is not just an issue in old age – young people suffer too Picture: StockSnap

In old age, many people experience a decline in their physical health, which can mean they are less confident about getting around and socialising as they used to. 

Loneliness affects over millions of adults across the globe, with one in ten people over 65 saying they always or often feel lonely. And there’s evidence to show that feeling lonely can cause existing physical health problems such as frailty or chronic pain to get worse.

But while awareness has grown about loneliness among older people, far less attention is given to how it affects young people. A recent study revealed that students are affected too, with almost half admitting to feeling lonely during their time at university, making loneliness is not only a health issue, but a social issue, too.

That’s why social psychologists like set out to explore the social causes of loneliness, and understand why people may begin to feel lonely in the first place.

People of all ages can face difficulties when adjusting to life’s changes, or seeking a sense of belonging among others who share similar goals and interests.

Young people experience periods of transition, just as older people do. Whether they’re facing changes at school, college, university or work, or difficulties with friends or family, most young people need to readjust to big changes at several points throughout their teenage years or early adulthood.

Transitioning from one stage of life to another often means a shift in identity, which challenges our sense of self. Establishing a new identity can take time, as can finding and connecting with others who seem to think like us, or share similar interests and goals. Whether old or young, most people have a strong need to feel a sense of belonging, and a connection with like-minded others.

Communities can provide the sense of identity and belonging, which protects people from feeling lonely in times of change. Whether it be a physical community, such as a neighbourhood or campus, or a community of people with shared experiences, passions or culture, having a hub of people to connect with is good for our health and well-being.

However, bigger factors such as poverty and inequality can also fuel loneliness in both younger and older people. Community projects alone cannot address these causes, though they do provide opportunities for young and old to connect and build a sense of belonging. 

For that reason, youth groups, schools, colleges and universities should create as many opportunities as possible for young people to connect with older adults – after all, both will benefit.

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