Despite being the most connected generation – with ‘friends’ accessible at the click of a button thanks to the wonders of technology and social media – a new study has loneliness in young people is more common than in any other age group.
And, not only are those aged 16 to 24 years feeling lonely more often, they’re also feeling it more intensely than any other generation too.
The Loneliness Experiment was a nationwide survey conducted by BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind, in collaboration with Wellcome Collection and researchers at The University of Manchester, Brunel University London, and Exeter University.
More than 55,000 people aged 16 years and over took part – making it the largest ever survey into the issue of loneliness – and the results were not quite what some people were expecting.
When you think of loneliness, it’s not uncommon to conjure up the image of an elderly person living alone, however 40% of respondents aged between 16 and 24 years old said they experience loneliness often or very often, compared with just 29% of those aged between 65 and 74.
So why might loneliness in young people be so bad? Well, ironically we use the internet to try to alleviate our loneliness. Social connection no longer requires a car, a phone call or prearranged plans. We can comment and like, we can see what others are up to in just a couple of scrolls and we can chat to our friends via instant messaging services, all without leaving the comfort of our homes.
Which is why, despite its name, social media is anything but social. Young people can have literally hundreds of ‘friends’ online, but in real life companionship and a sense of belonging is few and far between.
Being lonely seems to carry a stigma, with many people not wanting to openly admit how they feel – yet most people feel lonely at times. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. You can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely, however it isn’t a feeling that has to stick around forever.
Sometimes loneliness crops up for no reason at all, but since you know it doesn’t have to be permanent, it can actually make you feel grateful for all the people that you do have in your life – and could possibly push you to take the leap to meet new people and make new, more rewarding friendships. And it’s likely many people feel the same in this area too, as 41% of those surveyed also said they thought loneliness could sometimes be a positive experience.