Last week after I wrote about how some youth with worsening mental health symptoms might not get help because no one notices, the youth that I know began to come to me with their own suggestions.
“Dr. Beck, you have to write a blog and tell people how to prevent loneliness.”
“You know, Dr. Beck, it’s loneliness, people are lonely.”
“There are studies Dr. Beck, that show loneliness in adolescence can show up as depression. We have to stop loneliness somehow. I am texting everybody I know regularly.”
With so many youth saying the same thing, I did some research, but I also thought a lot myself about loneliness. Loneliness is a feeling most people understand but, if you think about it, we do not understand loneliness intellectually. We understand it physically. If I ask you to think about loneliness, you will not think of words or an image. When most of us think about loneliness, we get a feeling, usually a feeling in our chest. We feel a heaviness in our chest, often with an accompanying sadness. We can likely feel physical reactions in our body. Loneliness is a physical feeling, that we all understand but that is difficult to describe in words. I was very struck by this and began to use this as my jumping off point when I asked youth about loneliness.
I also asked how a youth program could work to prevent loneliness saying, “I can’t really text people. That would be creepy.”
“It would be creepy, Dr. Beck. Can you imagine someone saying, ‘Oh, it’s just a text from my psychiatrist.’ “
In the research I did, one of the things that I learned was that school plays an important role in preventing loneliness because of the opportunities it provides for youth to interact with each other. This is important to remember at this particularly bad time for COVID-19 infections, since I’m sure many parents are worried about the pandemic keeping their child home from school. It turns out that, for a youth’s emotional wellbeing, a parent is better off to remind a child about infection precautions, but go to school.
Another suggestion that came up was that I should start a “Loneliness Group”, a general group for youth to join if they were just lonely because of the pandemic.
“Does that not seem weird to you?” I asked the people who suggested this.
The youth I spoke with admitted that a “Loneliness Group” might come across as unusual when people heard first heard about it, but they also thought many people would come.
As someone reminded me, “It would be better than just texting people.”