Humans are social creatures with a strong desire for companionship, intimacy, and belonging. Loneliness occurs when the relationships a person has do not match their desired relationships. Social loneliness is the absence of satisfactory social connections with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors who provide support, belonging, companionship, and community. Emotional loneliness is the absence of a meaningful relationship with a significant other who provides emotional support and validates one’s worth as a person.
Loneliness is subjective and dependent on an individual’s unique social and intimate needs and their perception of relationship quality. Like hunger or pain, loneliness evolved to alert us to the lack of social connection. It motivates us to take corrective action, but unresolved loneliness can lead to health risks and early mortality (Elmer et al., 2022).
Given the decades of discrimination, sexual minorities such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI+), are prone to heightened risks of loneliness (Perone et al., 2020). Limited access to education, low levels of family support, friends support and connectedness to the LGBTQI+ community are significant predictors of loneliness. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown an increased proportion of depression among sexual minorities compared to cis-heterosexual people, where loneliness is observed to be the mediating factor (Herrmann et al., 2023). Various factors can also increase the risk of loneliness, including a small social network, poor-quality relationships, attachment insecurity, unrealistic expectations, negative personality traits, mental health issues, disability, and genetics (Elmer et al., 2022).
Therefore, studies recommend psychosocial interventions and healthcare engagement to enable sexual minorities to cope better with loneliness and preserve mental health. Moreover, studies on coping strategies identified that problem-focused coping contributes to reducing mental health risks compared to emotion-focused coping. Problem-focused coping involves actively addressing immediate issues by identifying solutions, comparing different choices, and taking steps to solve problems. This type of coping emphasizes active strategies such as using informational support, positive reframing, and planning. In contrast, emotion-focused coping focuses on managing the emotional distress associated with a situation. It may involve seeking emotional support, venting, using humor, accepting the situation, using religion, or self-blame. The efficiency of emotion-focused coping relies on the approach employed, and the field of stress and coping research typically regards it as less effective (Juhari et al., 2022).
The following are some ways that may help you overcome the risks of loneliness:
- Identify your support system and talk to them about how you feel.
- Seek an LGBTQI+ friendly therapist/psychologist to help you.
- Discuss with LGBTQI+ friendly healthcare practitioners.
- Contact your local LGBTQI+ associations for support.
- Listen to or read more about LGBTQI+ initiatives, to change your narrative.
- Trust the process and know you are not alone.
The journey for LGBTQI+ individuals to gain acknowledgement and acceptance on a global scale has been a difficult one. Despite the challenges, their resilience and perseverance have brought about significant progress. However, much work remains to create a truly inclusive society. Let us hold onto hope for continued positive changes and a future where every member of the LGBTQI+ community feels valued and welcomed.
About the Author:
Kumanan N. Govaichelvan is a PhD student at Universiti Malaya, Malaysia and a 2023 Plantae Fellow. Coming from a rice consuming country, he believes that his current research project will help enhance crop breeding process and sustain food security. He also likes discussing philosophy, Kazuo Ishiguro novels and human evolution. You can find him on Twitter at @NGKumanan.