Hands up, if you remember the Backstreet Boys ballad 'Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely', which reached No.3 in the UK charts in 2000? Nope? Just me? Either way, the issue of loneliness has been hitting headlines more and more over past few years.
“Anyone would be lying if they said they didn’t get lonely at times,” George has said. “The loneliest you will get is in the most public of arenas.”
Loneliness tends to be a label the elderly get stuck with a lot, especially when they live alone and don’t have regular face-to-face contact, but the truth is anyone can fall foul of this hidden killer, whether you are single, married, have over 500 friends on Facebook or are George Clooney.
Loneliness can strike at unexpected moments. Perhaps the weekend arrives and you’re stuck indoors doing boring stuff, while Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is full of updates about people you know having LOLZ with your other mates.
Or maybe you feel like an alien on your own planet, when all you see around you are couples holding hands, happy families, and confident people loudly making plans with their huge circle of friends.
The late Hollywood star, Robin Williams, who was battling addiction and depression whilst making us laugh on the big screen, once said: “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”
Loneliness is a very real health hazard – disrupting sleep, raising blood pressure and leading to depression. The Campaign To End Loneliness, which started in 2011 says: “Lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.”
“There are lots of reasons people become isolated,’ explains Lucy Etherington, a counsellor at mental health charity, MIND. “Perhaps something has happened to you - a crime or the break-up of a relationship. Or you have moved away from home for the first time. At first you take time to heal or adapt. But if you leave it too long, you start to wonder if you should remain alone to avoid getting hurt again. Or you view yourself as bad and need to live separately from society.”
For some, loneliness is a consequence of circumstances beyond their control. A social phobia or disability might mean it is difficult to leave the house. Or perhaps you are a carer, having to sacrifice a social life to look after a loved one. For others, their sexuality leaves them feeling isolated:
“The only place I talk about my sexuality is online,” writes an anonymous user of a web forum. “My sexuality has made me make difficult choices and the reason why I often experience loneliness. Studying, reading, art and television have become my life companions.”
So if you’re feeling trapped in a lonely nightmare, how can you escape? The first step is to admit what’s going on before things get worse. Fellas, don’t forget the rules of CALM – talk it out! Reach out to a friend or family member. Or post in an online forum. There is something to be said for the kindness of strangers. Talking to a therapist can also help.
“Just because your mind is thinking certain things, it doesn't mean they are true,’ continues counsellor, Lucy. “Talking to someone about your situation without being judged or dismissed can help. You can often find another point of view that is less negative.”
Eco-therapy is a new kind of treatment which has seen positive effect on patients. So if you’ve been hiding away from the world, why not try to get outside and re-connect with nature? Go for a walk or run through a green space. Sunny days are a bit rare in ‘ol Blighty, but a daily dose of sunlight is good for you, boosting vitamin D levels and helping with depression in some cases.
It’s also never too late to make new mates either. Yes, we all hope our best buddies will stick by us through the highs and lows, but sometimes they don’t. You grow apart, people move away, these things happen, so instead of posting angry messages on social media about rubbish friends, why not get out there and find some new ones? Meetup.com is a great place to start. There is a social group for everything – from footballers and Futurists to hackathons and meet ups for Muslims, plus everything in between!
Outdoorlads.com is a UK social group for gay and bisexual men who love the great outdoors. So if you’re feeling left out because your straight friends are coupling up, settling down and staying in on Saturday night to watch Strictly, this is a great way to make new gay friends while having a laugh mountain biking, hiking and more.
Or how about doing some voluntary work in your spare time? It always looks good on the CV. Perhaps you could volunteer for a charity helping older people who are feeling lonely? That way, you’d be tackling your own problem at the same time. Sorted. Check out Befriending Networks for ways to get involved.
Or if you’re an animal lover, get involved with Borrow My Doggy and volunteer to take someone’s dog for a walk. You know what they say about dogs being man’s best friend.
Whatever you decide to do, the main challenge is to try and stay connected to the world around you. Even if you just send a text message or phone someone you haven’t spoken to for ages, it is a great start. And, just remember, you’re not on your own.