A recent report has found young people are experiencing alarming levels of social isolation and loneliness which has researchers concerned the risk of developing social anxiety and depression is increasing.
According to The Australian Loneliness Report, young adults are reporting significantly more social interaction anxiety compared to older Australians, with the least lonely demographic being people over 65 years.
The VicHealth and Swinburne University study involved 1500 young people aged between 12 and 25, found almost a third were at risk of social isolation.
So, what is social isolation?
Lisa D’Souza, a clinical psychologist, says loneliness is an aspect of social isolation and directly relates to the perceived quality of an individual relationship.
She says loneliness is characterised by feeling misunderstood and being socially disconnected.
“Social isolation is essentially where a person is being withdrawn from others, for various reasons,” she says.
“It’s where a person has lost the confidence and ability to socialise and mix with other people while feeling comfortable in these situations.”
Why are young adults at more risk?
Ms D’Souza says young adults are extremely reliant on technology and online communication that impacts the way ‘real-life’ socialising occurs.
“There is so much judgement online, you’re meant to look a certain way and act a certain way and that’s just not the reality,” she said.
“So, people get worried about what others think of them and how they [others] will respond to them if they actually turn up.
“You’re at an age where you care a lot about what others think of you and with social media, you receive feedback instantly.
“If you are getting a lot of positive responses you can start to rely on others for your own gratification and if you are getting negative or no reactions you can internalise this.”
Listen to Lisa’s perspective on online communication.
Izzy Najihah, a Curtin University student, says the moment when someone is feeling isolated or feeling lonely their inner thoughts and voice start to consume the better parts of them.
“I definitely have felt like this and it is not something I would wish upon anyone,” she said.
“With it being World Mental Health Day I have realised that a lot of people are going through the same situation.”
Listen to Lisa D’Souza detail the short-term and long-term effects social isolation can have.
How can we help those in need?
Ms D’Souza suggests those who are struggling should seek professional help and reduce their amount of screen time.
“Taking things in baby steps, ensuring every day you have some sort of routine and you leave the house – even if it is just to go to the shops,” she says.
“The more they do these little things the more their confidence will grow. Talking to your family and friends is always a good idea as they can offer support.
“There is always hope that things can get better. It’s starting somewhere and asking someone for help.
“Understanding how hard it is for someone going through this and being patient with them is one of the most important steps you can take.”
Here are a few tips for addressing social isolation.
If you or anyone you know needs help: