Loneliness is such a subjective concept and what really is important here is the degree to which loneliness is affecting one’s life and/or a family’s life where relevant. What age is the person, because life goals and needs are often quite different for different age groups and for people with different priorities at different stages of life?

An older woman living alone may derive great comfort from a family pet such as a dog or cat and may only need occasional chats with a neighbour, friends, relatives or a community nurse to feel less lonely and satisfied with life. On the other hand a 14 year old boy confused about whether he is gay or not and so scared about being bullied at school and so lonely and depressed with no friends at all to talk to and to be comforted by, feels that death would be the only relief from all his problems.

Counselling, medical and mental health care, are important in this sort of serious situation as depression and suicidal thoughts often lead to suicide according to research findings in the literature. Family counselling or therapy may be required so that the boy does not feel alienated and think that he is totally on his own and out of his depth. His school will also need involvement to address his learning and welfare needs at school, particularly against bullying.

Involvement with peer support groups and perhaps talking with other kids who may have had similar experiences, feelings and thoughts and who were helped to understand their problems and how to build their resilience, could also be useful. Let’s now look at some quite effective approaches to coping with loneliness and depression.

Strategies and Skills — CBT, Activity Diaries, Pleasant Activities Worksheets, Timetabling one’s activities.

One of the great things about loneliness and depression is that you can actually do things to reduce their impact and improve your health and wellbeing.

One of the difficult things with people who are depressed and lonely is that their thinking is just so negative and self-blaming. And that you give up almost immediately on doing anything that might be remotely positive to improve your life. This clearly needs challenging by the affected person, but how?

Step 1 — Learn to become aware of your thoughts and feelings and their effects on you

Write down the negative thought and then next to it write down the situation in which the thought relates to.

Negative Thought: ‘I’m a failure’
Situation: ‘I’m finding it hard to cook properly’

Step 2 — Challenge the negative thought. When you challenge the thought you need to:

  1. Accept the reality of the situation
  2. Don’t go beyond the reality of the situation — stay with the facts

You then get something like this:

Negative Thought: ‘I’m a failure’
Situation: ‘I’m finding it hard to cook properly’
Challenge: ‘Cooking is not one of my strong points. I have never had any cooking lessons after all. Maybe I need some.’

Let’s look at some questions to challenge this negative thinking as outlined by The Clinical Psychology Service of Northampton Healthcare Community (NHS) Trust, 2003, Coping With Depression, Booklets 3 (Negative Thoughts), revised 09/12/03, p.8. The questions are directly recited from that source as follows:

Negative Thought: ‘No one likes me anymore’

1. Evidence: (Is there any evidence to contradict your Negative Thought belief?)

  1. What evidence do I have to support this thought?
  2. Does what I think fit with the facts?
  3. Am I jumping to conclusions?

2. What Alternative Views are There? (There is always other ways of seeing a situation)

  1. How would someone else view this situation?
  2. What advice would I give to a friend in this situation?
  3. Would I be as negative to someone else who was in my situation?

3. What is the Effect of Thinking Like This?

  1. Does it help me?
  2. Does it make me feel better?

4. Am I Making an Error in My Thinking?

  1. Am I thinking in an extreme ‘all-or-nothing’ way?
  2. Am I condemning myself as a person on the basis of just one event?
  3. Am I concentrating on my weaknesses and not my strengths?
  4. Am I blaming myself for something that is not my fault?
  5. Am I taking something personal when it really has nothing in particular to do with me?
  6. Am I expecting myself to be perfect?
  7. Are my standards I set for myself too high?
  8. Am I using a double standard — one for me and another for everyone else?
  9. Are my expectations the same when I am depressed as compared to when I am fine?
  10. Am I setting realistic or impossible tasks?
  11. Am I only focusing on the dark side of things?
  12. Am I exaggerating the importance of just one event?
  13. Am I being open or closed minded about the future?

What we have just explored entails some critical elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which has been proven to be successful in the treatment of some people with depression. However, there are some important tips that you will need to take on board if you chose to use this approach.

  1. Use a positive (or negative) Data Log with columns that outline the following headings:
    1. The Negative Thought
    2. Initial Degree of Belief
    3. Situation Involved
    4. Challenges to the Negative Thought
    5. Later Degree of Belief in the Initial Negative Thought
  2. Decide to use the Data Log for just a short period of time.
  3. Note down negative thoughts as soon as they occur
  4. Challenging negative thoughts will be easier with constant practice
  5. Eventually you will test your challenging thoughts — testing against the evidence.