Mallory Welsh, LCSW

I work with many clients who are struggling with depression related to a number of factors. Often times, I have noticed that clients who are struggling with depression also tend to discuss they feel lonely. As their clinical therapist, I help clients understand possible reasons why they are experiencing loneliness and then possible coping strategies to beat this lonely feeling.

I recently read an article from Scientific American that touched on this very topic, “A Solution for Loneliness” by author Kasley Killam. Killam states that loneliness is actually killing people, and that anywhere from 25-50% of Americans face loneliness which puts them at a greater risk for depression, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Killam discusses there is an actual solution for loneliness: volunteering.

Below are some key points from Killam’s article on how volunteering can decrease the feeling of loneliness.

  • More interactions with others. A recent survey pointed out that those who volunteer, have less social isolation. Through more social interactions, those individuals then begin to feel less lonely. Volunteering allows you to meet other people who tend to be like minded individuals, depending on which avenue you choose to volunteer in. I encourage my clients to find a place to volunteer that they genuinely enjoy to increase their chances of finding people who could share similar interests as them. For example, if you like dogs, maybe the local animal shelter could be a meaningful volunteer experience for you. Through making meaningful connections at volunteering organizations, it can also lead to meaningful friendships.
  • Increase sense of belonging & purpose. Most times people who feel lonely, also have a loss of meaning of who they are. Having an opportunity where you are spending your time giving back to others, can certainly increase your sense of meaning and decrease your feelings of loneliness at the same time. Another study even points out that having a feeling of purpose in life increases psychological well-being and a decreased chance in having a stroke.
    Cognitive stimulation. Studies have also pointed out that through loneliness and isolation, it can decrease individuals’ cognition, such as memory loss. Lisa Genova, a neurologist, states those that are mentally stimulated are building neural connections which then are able to make individuals more resilient to symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. Essentially, through volunteering not only are you building meaningful connections with others, but you are stimulating your brain, which decreases cognitive decline.
  • Who does loneliness most likely affect? Baby Boomers and Millennials are most at risk for loneliness, specifically those that are under the age of 25 and those that are older than the age of 65. For millennials, it seems that they were used to being surrounded by close friends when they were in high school and college, but once they have their first full time job, they are no longer surrounded by all of their friends from school, perhaps they even moved to a new city for their job and don’t know anyone in their new city. Baby boomers on the other hand, are moving into the stage in their life of retirement. While some may think this is a time to wind down and relax, some baby boomers feel isolated because they have gone from working 9-5pm jobs for the last 40+ years to now not working, creating both lack of purpose and lack of connection with their coworkers. For baby boomers and millennials, volunteering may just be the perfect solution for them to beat loneliness, or for anyone struggling with loneliness for that matter!

If you are currently struggling with depression and loneliness, it may be a good idea to connect with one of our skilled counselors at Symmetry Counseling today. You can contact them at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment.