Updated: Aug 30
Recently, the Surgeon General of the United States announced that the country is facing an epidemic of loneliness. People have fewer friends and social connections than ever before. This is true in part due to having to isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was a problem even before the pandemic.
Additionally, people in marginalized groups can feel even lonelier than others. If you are facing social stigma and discrimination, it is easier to feel alone. You may not want to seek out social connection for fear of being judged for being who you are. This is true for those in the LGBTQ+ community, and those with mental health disorders, among others.
LGBTQ+ and Loneliness
If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you may feel like you are isolated from others in your community, and even your own family. In many cases, this can be due to a lack of social acceptance of your identity. It can be difficult to reach out and make friends when you feel like you are constantly being judged.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness,
With the help of social media, we surveyed nearly 8,000 LGBTQ people aged 18-88 from 85 countries. We found that marginalization is, indeed, associated with loneliness. We also found that part of this association appears to be explained by proximal minority stress (especially worry about negative judgment of one’s sexual orientation) and, in turn, social anxiety and inhibition. Social anxiety is particularly prevalent among sexual minorities and is a known risk factor for loneliness.
It is unfair that even in 2023 there is so much judgement and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people that they feel like they have to isolate themselves from society. Creating greater social acceptance of diverse identities is crucial for helping individuals to feel a greater sense of connection.
People shouldn't have to be afraid to be how they are. We, as a society, need to learn to be more kind and gentle with others, and to love and accept them the way that they are.
Within the LGBTQ+ community, parental and family acceptance can go a long way. Those who are accepted within their families are less at risk for mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and suicide.
If there is someone in your family or friend group who comes out as LGBTQ+, it is important to be accepting and caring with them. When parents don't accept their child's identity, it can do lifelong harm and even cause childhood trauma. This can lead to loneliness on the part of the child, often extending into adulthood.
Mental Health and Loneliness
When you have a mental illness, it can often feel socially isolating. Similarly to with LGBTQ+ individuals, those with mental illness are often stigmatized in society. This can lead to loneliness for individuals with a mental illness because they feel like they have to hide their diagnosis from others.
According to Mind UK:
Feeling lonely isn't a mental health problem. But having a mental health problem can increase feelings of loneliness. For example, if you’re struggling with your mental health, you may:
Avoid social events and activities you usually enjoy
Have low self-esteem
Find it hard to try new things and worry about engaging with others
Find it difficult to speak to people about how you’re feeling, for fear of stigma or not being understood
Feel like you could be a burden to others
Feel overwhelmed in busy public places, or at work events and parties
For people with a mental health diagnosis, a lot of their inner life and feelings feel taboo, shameful, or like they have to be kept hidden from others. Not only does this take a lot of effort to do, it can deeply increase feelings of loneliness in everyday life.
Not wanting to disclose a mental health diagnosis to others can lead to an avoidance of social situations in general, and be further damaging to mental health in the long run. Having a strong support system is important for healing your mental health, but finding that support system can be difficult.
This is why therapy and support groups are often recommended for people with a mental illness. It can provide a support system for people with a mental illness that they may not otherwise have. However, this may not make up for the support of friends and family.
Creating a More Inclusive Society
Ending stigmatization of marginalized groups and creating a more inclusive society can help people to feel like they belong. It can help to end the epidemic of loneliness which is facing people all across the United States. Learning to be more accepting as individuals can help us on a personal level, and on a societal level as well.
Families are less close-knit than ever before in society, and people have less friends too. In recent studies, it has been found that more people than ever before report having no close friends at all. We are all lonelier than ever, and this can be in part because of social stigma and judgement. People are simply afraid to reach out and make new connections.
Many people rely on online apps for dating and even making friends. Our communities are moving online instead of in person. While this can help in part, it can increase discrimination because when you are on a dating app, you are first and foremost looking at physical appearance, with little else to go on. That means, people who are less conventionally attractive are more likely to end up alone.
Relying on apps or online community can also lead to increased loneliness for older people who may be less tech savvy than younger people.
There are many groups who feel left out or not part of a community of their own, or like they are stigmatized and discriminated against. Ending this type of discrimination can be a big step towards a more inclusive society where everyone feels like they are not so lonely.
On a personal level, it can be important to be kind to others always, and to be open to listening to their points of view. If someone discloses to you that they are part of a marginalized group, take it seriously, they have trusted you enough to make a difficult confession. Make sure to listen to everything they have to say, and be supportive.
On a societal level, we can advocate for people who are less privileged than we are, and help to create a more inclusive society. We can work to break down stigma in our conversations with others, and advocate for more inclusive social policy in politics as well. We can vote for legislatures who are more accepting and inclusive as well.
You may not be ready for political or social activism on a large scale, but everything you do to help marginalized people matters. Speaking up when something disparaging is said is the first step towards making a difference. Using your votes to make sure they count in favor of those being marginalized is a second.
As a society, we need to learn to be more kind, more open, and more accepting of others who are different than we are. We can be the kind of people who reach out a hand to those in need. This can make the biggest difference of all in people's lives.