When I think of loneliness, I picture somebody old. I visualise some doddery, wrinkled man, whose partner passed away years ago. No job to go to, nobody to spend Christmas or birthdays with. Just himself, a rocking chair and Antiques Roadshow.
But actually, while this is a valid problem among the elderly, they aren’t the age group that claim to be the loneliest. According to the most recent research, it is in fact younger people who feel the most alone.
The BBC conducted a survey, involving 55,000 people, which revealed that 40% of 16-24 year olds often feel lonely or very lonely. Only 29% of those aged 65-74, and 27% of those over 75, felt the same.
What’s this all about then? Since when have the young and free felt lonely? Aren’t the younger generation buried under thousands of Facebook friends and a tonne of parties to go to every weekend? Aren’t we all making it big in some of the busiest cities, and coming into contact with numerous new faces on our daily commutes?
But that’s just the thing – you don’t have to be alone to feel lonely. You can be surrounded by people but still feel totally misunderstood and isolated.
There’s a lot of factors at play here. Social media, for example, is a great way to branch out and feel connected to one another. But BBC found that people who felt the loneliest tended to have more friends on Facebook which they didn’t know in person. The online world is fabulous, but it’s also isolating. Especially when we’re constantly comparing ourselves to the filtered models of Instagram, and feeling bitter about all the wild nights on our friend’s Snapchat story (thanks for the invite), it’s easy to feel like we’re on our own.
As a young adult, this is one of the periods in your life when you’ll experience the most change. These years are full of huge turning points, from moving away from home to landing our first full time job. This can often mean leaving people behind, adapting to unknown surroundings and, inevitably, feeling lonely.
And then there’s our differences. Whether it be our skin colour, religion, a disability — BBC also discovered that those who feel discriminated against are more likely to feel lonely. Surprise, surprise. Point out everything that makes a person stand out in a crowd, and wonder why they feel like they don’t fit in.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but we tend to think of the youth as the most open-minded people in society. Each generation brings forward new ideas. So why are we carving out a world where people are led to feel isolated for their differences? Shouldn’t we be welcoming diversity? Why do I feel so revolutionary for saying this when surely, it’s just common sense? There’s no place in this world for a lack of acceptance, or at least, there shouldn’t be.
Maybe it’s not all doom and gloom, however. Perhaps one of the reasons why young people are the loneliest is because people are much more comfortable with the prospect of being alone. 41% of people in the survey said that loneliness can be a positive thing. There’s no better way to learn to love yourself than to feel completely happy in your own company. Some of us are more independent than others, perhaps, but I think we all need to remember our self-worth sometimes. People are incredible, but they don’t have to complete you. You complete you. You’re a strong, self-sufficient individual, and knowing that should be enough.