With many Australians feeling isolated due to ongoing lockdowns and border closures, some young people have experienced heightened feelings of loneliness. With so much disruption to daily routines, a shift to online learning for many, high levels of uncertainty, separation from family and friends, and important milestones being missed, feelings of loneliness are having a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of young people in Australia.

Most of us have experienced loneliness at some stage of our lives, whether it’s during our highschool years, higher education or working life. For many young people, these feelings of loneliness have been exacerbated by the pandemic as we all adjusted to having to connect in different ways.

We define loneliness as a feeling of distress that is often experienced when social relations and interactions are not meeting a young person’s needs. We know that young people have an innate need to belong and form meaningful connections. Even before the pandemic, loneliness was impacting the mental health of young people in Australia.

A ReachOut survey* found that around one in five (18 per cent) young people reported feeling lonely ‘most of the time’ or ‘always’ and almost half of young people (43 per cent) experiencing loneliness reported a ‘moderate’ to ‘major’ impact on their emotional and/or mental wellbeing. The most common place that young people felt lonely was at home (69 per cent), underscoring the increasing need for support services that are accessible for young people where and when they need them.

Research has also found that loneliness amongst young people can often be compounded by a lack of connection to friends and family, significant life transitions, inherent societal pressure to socialise, and resistance to being alone.

The impact of loneliness on mental health

When young people are feeling lonely it can impact their mental and physical wellbeing. For example, they may feel more tired than usual, lack motivation or feel helpless. And, with young people currently experiencing unprecedented levels of change and disruption to their day-to-day lives, now is an important time for young people to find new ways to connect with their community.

The challenge is that often feelings of guilt and shame associated with loneliness can be a barrier for young people when it comes to seeking support from family and friends. Luckily, there are steps that young people can take to address feelings of loneliness and start to feel a bit better.

One young person said: “I learnt that it takes time for loneliness to go away. My parents couldn’t “fix” my isolation in life, but they did teach me how I could strengthen my mental health and develop meaningful connections with people around me.”

Here are some of the strategies that can make a difference.

  • Writing it down – Getting thoughts and feelings out and onto paper can help young people to process their emotions and clear their mind. Whether it’s scribbling thoughts, jotting down lyrics or using a journaling app such as Day One, this is an important step in helping young people understand and deal with feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Connecting with a furry friend – Animals are great at making humans feel more connected and cared for. Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and ease loneliness.
  • Hanging out with like-minded people – Encouraging young people to connect with others who have similar interests or hobbies, such as volunteering, running, gaming or art, is a great way to combat loneliness. Building social skills is just like building any other set of skills and ‘micro-interactions’ with people like baristas, classmates or rideshare drivers can be a helpful way to connect with people.
  • Jumping online – For many young people experiencing loneliness, face-to-face interactions can be nerve-wracking. There are so many great and safe online spaces where young people can connect with others, like the ReachOut Online Community, which is a supportive, safe and anonymous space where people care because they have ‘walked in your shoes’.

One 17 year-old male said: “I’ve found myself getting lost in the things I like – writing stories, playing video games, watching YouTube or talking to friends. It’s meditative and calming and I love it,” while a 18-20 year-old female said: “I’ve been exercising and meditating, all of which have helped me be calmer and more relaxed.” Young people and parents can access ReachOut’s online communities to connect with others for peer support.

For more information on ReachOut, visit ReachOut.com, ReachOut.com/Parents and ReachOut.com/Schools.

For more ideas on managing loneliness, visit our Talking Loneliness hub.

If you need help, mental health support services are available through:

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800