In 2009, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reported on a study which was headlined: “Loneliness is as bad for us as smoking”.

The research showed that lonely people generally have poorer health, exercise less and comfort-eat more than those with a more effective social network.

So basically, loneliness is not just a horrid feeing but damaging too. However, vast numbers of us feel a sense of shame and stigma about admitting to it. We don’t want to seem pathetic, and often beat ourselves up about our lonely feelings rather than seek help for them.

Because of everything I’ve seen as a therapist, I can tell you that any one of us can develop this problem. Life’s circumstances change all the time, and suddenly – and all too easily – we can find ourselves isolated and disconnected from everyone who matters to us. Typically, we tend to think that lonely people are old, living alone and immobile, but that’s just part of the picture.

Students going to university for the first time are often crippled with loneliness having left friends and family back home. And the end of a university course is another difficult period for many, when the social circle they’ve built up over three or four years scatters throughout the UK and beyond as young people take up new jobs in different locations.

Then there’s empty-nest syndrome, which can hit parents very hard indeed, leaving them feeling redundant and alone when their offspring go into further education, or move abroad or get married.

Loneliness is also rife among individuals with mental health problems – and some of the worst hit are those with eating disorders, like bulimia, which tend to be kept secret.

Also, there are plenty of people in poor relationships who feel sad and isolated. You don’t have to live alone to be lonely.

And the death of a parent can generate huge loss and loneliness when a mother or father has always represented unconditional loving and a safe haven.

So please remember that you’re not a failure if you’re lonely. Even the most sociable and self-reliant of individuals can suffer from aloneness turning into loneliness. But there are ways to tackle it. Here are some suggestions:

1. Admit how you feel to friends and family, and if you’re becoming depressed, see a doctor or counsellor.

2. Be one of the many who join a tennis club in the wake of Wimbledon. Or take up some other sports activity. Sign up for a book club or choir or to learn a new language. If you like gardening, seek out a horticultural club near you ( Do anything in fact that will help you pursue an interest while bringing you into contact with others who share it.

3. Talk to strangers at bus stops and in shops. Smile. Don’t wait for an invitation. Be that person who takes the initiative and invites someone else for coffee, or for a walk.

4. Have a healthy diet. Comfort-eating or indulging in junk food makes us feel more unattractive and hopeless. When you eat protein and fresh fruit and vegetables, you give an important message to your brain that you’re worth bothering about.

5. Become a volunteer. There’s no better way to feel connected in society, increase your sense of self-worth and raise your mood than by becoming useful to others.

6. Visit the people you care for as often as you can. Being with those you love is a wonderful antidote to loneliness.

7. Get help. We’re lucky in this part of the country to have lots of support for isolated and lonely people. In Suffolk (and parts of south Norfolk) a good place to start is the Rural Coffee Caravan ( This helps pensioners in the main but also supports younger people.

On their website you’ll also find details of a project called Meet up Mondays, where you will have the opportunity to make new friends in your area. In Norfolk, take a look at the excellent Norfolk County Council directory And if you’re a parent or carer of young children, and are feeling isolated, I heartily recommend the organisation Get Me Out the Four Walls. They have activities during term time and in the holidays. Find out more here:

8. Make the effort to look as good as you can. Have a hair cut or colour. Pluck something different to wear from your wardrobe. Take care of yourself. When you’re lonely, this can feel pointless. But nature has made you unique with your own DNA and fingerprints. You’re special. If you look smarter, you’ll be much more likely to feel it.

Loneliness is truly miserable. But it happens. Just remember though that for most of us it’s temporary. So do all you can to improve the situation – and don’t be too proud to ask for help. Good luck!