“Loneliness feels like being invisible”

An elderly woman with a serious expression looking out of a window.
Photo: Joonas Brandt / Suomen Punainen Risti

One in five Finns experiences loneliness, at least at times.

Loneliness affects most of us in different situations in life. One in five Finns experiences loneliness, at least at times. More than 500,000 Finns experience loneliness quite often or constantly. 

Loneliness is a troubling experience

Loneliness does not mean being alone voluntarily and by choice; it is a negative state related to the experienced lack of social relationships. Not having desired social contacts causes a feeling of being on the outside: I have nobody, nobody notices me, I do not belong in any group or community.

Feeling disconnected significantly weakens your well-being, and when it continues for a long time it can also cause physical symptoms and depression.

Elderly people living alone experience insecurity

Based on research, loneliness is pronounced at the early and late stages of adulthood, meaning age groups of 20–29-year-olds and those over 70. Up to one in three elderly people experiences loneliness.

Loneliness among elderly people is often caused by the reduced network of loved ones due to old age. Their children may live far away and restricted mobility or deteriorated resources prevent them from getting to other people. It can also be hard to forge new relationships at an older age. In particular, elderly people living alone often experience insecurity in addition to loneliness.

In Finland, the share of the over-65s is expected to rise from the current 19.9 per cent of the population to 26 per cent by 2030, and to 29 per cent by 2060.

There are many reasons for loneliness among young people

Friends are highly important to a young person. Together, friends can practice social skills that are needed later e.g. in relationships and working life.

The loneliness of young people can be related to shyness, social anxiety or changes in life situations, for example. Moving to a new town is a typical situation where a young person can feel lonely. Physical impairments or mental health issues can also exclude a youth from other young people.

Not even social media has been able to solve the problem of loneliness. Even when a young person is active on social media, they can still feel lonely. However, if a young person does not have any social networks, social media can alleviate loneliness and offer new contacts. For many young people, online friendships can be a suitable way of having anonymous but personal discussions with others online.

The loneliness of children and young people can have serious consequences. Loneliness causes social anxiety, depression and various types of risk behaviour.

Loneliness can be eradicated

We need to be able to talk about loneliness. Bringing up the subject is the first step towards solutions. We can all help alleviate loneliness through our own activities. Do we stop and think about how we treat other people often enough? Do we notice lonely people around us?

Being seen and having even small meaningful encounters – eye contact, a smile or some friendly and encouraging words – can have a transformative meaning to an individual. The feeling of belonging and being part of a group is important to us all. Even a single positive relationship can stop the cycle of loneliness and carry you forward in life.

Help with loneliness

The Finnish Red Cross volunteer friends offer concrete help with loneliness. The Red Cross continuously trains and conveys volunteer friends for people who for one reason or another feel they need the company of another person. The volunteer friends get together and spend time in a manner that suits them.

Surveys conducted by the Finnish Red Cross show that organised volunteering, such as our friend activities, significantly alleviates loneliness and improves the quality of life. Volunteer friends bring joy and security to a lonely life, but also expand the boundaries of the world and offer a way to a more social life, e.g. to different hobbies. The friendships also enrich the life of volunteer friends and create desired ties across age and cultural barriers.

(Sources: Junttila 2015: Kavereita nolla, Tammi; Jylhä 2004: Old age and loneliness: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses in the Tampere longitudinal study on aging. Canadian Journal on Aging 23(2): 157-168; Saari (ed.) 2016: Yksinäisten Suomi, Gaudeamus; THL 2015: Yksinäisyys ja osallistuminen, ATH-tutkimuksen tuloksia - Järjestökentän tutkimusohjelma; Uotila 2011 (doctoral dissertation): Vanhuus ja yksinäisyys: tutkimus iäkkäiden ihmisten yksinäisyyskokemuksista, niiden merkityksistä ja tulkinnoista, Tampere University Press 2011; Vaarama et al. (ed.) 2014: Suomalaisten hyvinvointi 2014, THL 2014; Statistics Finland 2018)

Friend activities alleviate loneliness – the Red Cross
Friend activities alleviate loneliness – the Red Cross