Report: The Psychological Approaches To Tackling Loneliness

The charity Campaign to End Loneliness has released a new report which it says is the first of its kind to look at how psychological approaches can help tackle loneliness. Not surprisingly, due to lockdown, more people than ever before are reporting feelings of loneliness. Meanwhile, mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and positive psychology are all approaches that can help people who are feeling lonely. The report has the backing of the Minister for Loneliness, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Cruse Bereavement Care, Relate and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

More About the Report

Loneliness happens when the social connections that people want don’t match their actual experience of relationships with others. Loneliness is a subjective and emotional response and we need to better understand its emotional impact on individuals. People describe loneliness with words like anxiety, fear, shame and helplessness.

These powerful emotions can influence how we act. Loneliness can also affect how we anticipate and interpret our social experiences.

This can mean we are more apprehensive or fearful of social situations or pick up on social rejection cues too readily. This can create a downward spiral where loneliness can cause someone to withdraw further from family and friends and become lonelier.

The report is focussed on older people but has lessons for all adults. It gathers the current research and evidence available to us about what we can learn from psychology, as well as making policy recommendations for how this learning can be applied and help the millions of lonely people across the UK.

What works

There are a number of psychological approaches that show promise for easing loneliness in later life. The three with the most relevant research evidence are cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and positive psychology.

Cognitive behavioural therapy helps people understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviours so they can change some of these to manage their difficulties.

Mindfulness can help people become aware of their thoughts during difficult times and choose to accept or reject them.

Positive psychology promotes positive emotions, helping people to override negative feelings and thought patterns.

What we can do

Through public campaigning, we can help individuals to understand how loneliness affects them and those around them and build this understanding into their everyday lives.

Organisations providing services for people who may be lonely can adjust their work to use some of the learning about the psychology of loneliness.

Group activities, social prescribing and emerging psycho-education courses can all use these insights to improve the design of their services. Indeed, many already do.

There is a group of people with chronic loneliness, which may be part of a complex set of problems, or due to difficult life events such as bereavement. This group may be best helped by one-to-one support directly focused on helping them alleviate loneliness using psychological techniques.

We hope that the evidence and insights in this report will shine new light on this issue and improve our collective ability to tackle loneliness.

This is the first policy report on loneliness and psychology in the UK and there is still much to learn. Nevertheless, the case for action is clear.

Download the full report, The Psychology of Loneliness, from the Campaign to End Loneliness website.

Kate Shurety, Executive Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness said:

“As a result of lockdown millions of people say loneliness is affecting their wellbeing and there has been unprecedented action across all levels of government and society. The subject has never been more relevant As meeting physically has often been impossible due to lockdown, there has been an increased understanding of the role of psychology to deal with loneliness. This report hopes to help people tackle their own loneliness and support people to better understand the emotional impact of their thoughts and feelings.”

Baroness Diana Barran MBE, Minister for Civil Society said:

“Since becoming Minister for Loneliness, I have become ever more struck by the seriousness of loneliness and the impact it has on people’s lives. It can affect our health, wellbeing, productivity, and self-esteem. This is the first policy report on the psychology of loneliness in the UK. I hope that the way it crystallises what many people are doing instinctively can be used to spread these approaches, so everyone can connect in order to live full and satisfying lives.”

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