what is loneliness?

Loneliness, or subjective social isolation, is an unpleasant mismatch between the quantity and quality of one’s social relationships and one’s preferences for social involvement. Although loneliness may be associated with objective social isolation and limited social contacts, the two concepts are not synonymous – it is possible to experience loneliness even despite having numerous social contacts. Loneliness is more related to the way a person perceives their social relationships than to the objective characteristics of those. The same social relationship (e.g. romantic relationship) may be considered supportive and caring, or restrictive and insensitive, depending on the individual’s previous experiences, beliefs, and needs.

what are the consequences of loneliness?

It has been repeatedly shown that loneliness may have deleterious effects on the quality of mental, physical, and social functioning even in the absence of objective isolation. Lonelier healthy adults are more likely to experience mental health problems and engage in physical health risk behaviors. Loneliness is currently recognized as a standalone risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, which are the leading cause of death globally, and it was found to be a significant predictor of both general cognitive impairment and development of Alzheimer’s disease. At the same time, little is known about the physiological mechanisms that lead to the negative health effects of the perceived social isolation. Research shows that in lonely people, characteristic cognitive mechanisms can be observed, such as excessive social threat bias, together with structural and functional changes in key brain structures that are involved in the processing of social information. Additionally, loneliness is associated with a reduction in the so-called heart rate variability, which can serve as an indicator of the ability to self-regulate in response to unknown and potentially threatening stimuli in the environment.

how common is loneliness?

All over the world, more and more is being written about the “loneliness epidemic”. A 2018 study by the Kaiser Foundation found that one in five American and British adults always or often feels lonely, lacks company, feels excluded or isolated. The British BBC’s Loneliness Experiment, carried out in the same year, found that as many as 40% of young people aged 16-24 feel lonely often or very often. According to a 2018 Cigna survey of Americans, nearly half of respondents sometimes or always feel lonely (46%) and feel abandoned (47%), and more than half sometimes or always feel that no one knows them well.
Leaving home, changing school, work, place of residence, mourning – all these situations can weaken the strength of our social bonds. Loneliness mainly affects vulnerable people who are more prone to harm: the elderly, people with disabilities or mental illnesses, young parents, divorcees, adolescents, immigrants and refugees. According to a 2017 Jo Cox report, as many as 58% of immigrants mention loneliness as the main problem they face, half of disabled people feel lonely, as do 8 out of 10 carers of the elderly.

is it also a problem in Poland?

According to the CBOS report “Social Ties” from 2017, the phenomenon of loneliness in Poland is currently not as common as in the West. Two out of five respondents claim that they sometimes feel lonely, but only a few (4%) feel lonely always or very often. More than half of the respondents (58%) declare that they are completely alien to the feeling of loneliness.
At the same time, 37% of respondents declare that they like to spend time only in the company of their immediate family, and with each subsequent report, for example, the number of relations with neighbors decreases. Moreover, the number of one-person households in Poland is growing – according to the GUS report, in 2030 it will be every third household.