Loneliness is a lot more common than many of us think and research has shown that it can also be a serious health risk – as bad as smoking or obesity.  Fortunately, loneliness is something we can tackle together.
Lots of guys are embarrassed about feeling lonely, and suffer in silence instead of reaching out. It’s important to be able to recognize when a friend is feeling alone, so we can help before they further isolate and disconnect from those around them. When left unaddressed, loneliness can overlap or lead to mental health issues like depression – so it’s important to step up and lend a hand.
Here are some ways to tell if your friend may be dealing with loneliness, as well as things you can do to help him out.
Times in our lives that are particularly stressful or when we have less opportunities for social contact can lead to loneliness.
Here are some examples of when it’s important to pay extra attention to your friend’s mental health:
- The end of a relationship
- Changing schools or jobs
- Quitting or losing a job
- Moving to a new city
- Living alone for the first time
- The death of a loved one
Many men have a steadfast attitude about and pride in individual self reliance. Because of this, many men don’t like to ask or rely on others for help – which further feeds into loneliness. Though this can help in other areas of life, loneliness isn’t something we can address on our own.
Loneliness is about connecting with others and feeling understood.
Though a guy may not be willing or ready to talk about it more directly, there are often other cues we can notice in their words and actions. Here are some things to look for:
What he’s saying:
- Talk about feeling left out
- Talk about not feeling understood
- Saying things like “people don’t get me” or “you just don’t understand”
What he’s doing:
- Self isolating and spending more time by himself
- Making excuses not to meet up, or declining invites to social events
- Not making an effort to engage with people when around others
If you suspect your friend may be feeling lonely, there are lots of things you can do to help. It’s crucial to make sure your friend feels noticed and acknowledged.
Here are some ways to help your friend:
- Ask your friend how they’re doing and really try to listen and understand where they are coming from.
- Simply listening will let them know you care about them.
- Make yourself available, let them know you are there, and that you are a person they can rely on and talk to.
Be optimistic and reassuring
- Try to normalize loneliness; remind your friend that lots of people feel lonely at times in their lives and that there’s nothing wrong with that. Loneliness is a normal human emotion. Try saying something like “We all need friends. I’m here for you.”
- Try to reassure them of their value and self worth. For example, if they’ve just gone through a tough break up, remind them of all the things they have to offer.
Reach out and connect with them
- Ask your friend to go for a walk or help you out with an errand.
- Make plans to do something that they would enjoy.
- Go for a short road trip.
Check in with them routinely
- Depending on how close you are; daily, weekly, or bi-weekly check-in’s can go a long way to showing them that you value their friendship.
- A quick text/message or phone/video call can also be really helpful.
- Set a goal to connect with them for an hour each week.
- The big part here is to keep up with them. If you regularly show your interest in them, that can really help them to fight negative thoughts they might be having about nobody caring about them.
Make small unexpected gestures
- Share funny videos or memes, with a message like “thought you might like this” to show that you are thinking about them.
- Give a small gift that shows you are paying attention to what they like, e.g., a particular beer they like or a favourite snack.
Enlist other friends or family members to help out
- Try reaching out to other friends and ask them to send your friend a message, give them a call, or invite them out.
Plan activities where they may meet others
- Help them connect with neighbours and others in the community. For example, introduce him to the barista at a local coffee shop so you can help break the ice for him the next time he comes in on his own.
- Help him look for groups he could volunteer with.
- If your friend is lonely because he’s single, maybe there is someone you could introduce him to or help him get a dating profile together.
- Find a meetup or other group he might be interested in. If he is nervous in new social situations, offer to tag along and help him introduce himself.
 Isolation and Loneliness: An Overview of the Literature (PDF), 2016, British Red Cross
Written by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Reviewed and approved by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk - Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program at the Department of Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia.
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