This blog could also have been called ‘the loneliness of depression’. They can be experienced at the same time, and can both play a role in contributing to the other. Two months ago the actor and comedian Stephen Fry, who has bipolar disorder, wrote eloquently about loneliness on his blog.
Following a suicide attempt, he wrote about how he often felt “forlorn, unhappy and lonely” despite good treatment, his successful career, plenty of loving friends and numerous invitations to parties and public events. He acknowledged that all of these things could mean he did not have the right to feel like he did. But he continues: “I don’t have the right not to have those feelings. Feelings are not something to which one does or does not have rights.”
There is some research into loneliness and poor mental health. We cannot say (and should not attempt to) if one is the cause of the other. However, we do know that:
- Lonely individuals are more prone to depression, one study found loneliness to be one of three main factors leading to depression
- Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age
- Lonely individuals are more likely to experience poor sleep
- Doctors do not often diagnosis depression in older people, but consider it to be part of a spectrum that includes loneliness and a lack of a social network – treating it as inevitable, rather than treatable
(You can email us if you need references for any of the above points)
What could lead to change?
For individuals, let’s start with Stephen Fry’s words: “I want you to know that you are not alone in your being alone.” There are a range of charities including Mind and the Depression Alliance who are have a range of resources, including helplines, for anyone who is feeling depressed and/or lonely.
For local policy makers and health and care services, we believe tackling loneliness and social isolation in older age should be a priority alongside promoting and supporting good mental health. The Mental Health Foundation recently argued for public services and facilities that engage the baby boomers generation as they retire to build “protective networks” for a social later life. You can find out more about how this can be achieved here.
Finally, we hope this blog will encourage you to think more tackling loneliness and supporting people with depression. One step is to make sure your local health and care commissioners are aware of the link between mental ill health and loneliness, and then ask them to act to build a strategy to prevent both. You can learn more about how to do this on our Loneliness Harms Health campaign page.