According to this BBC article, the number of people who are likely to be lonely is rising all over the world. Many of these are elderly, left by themselves after their partners have died or their families have moved away.
Half of over 75 year olds in the UK live alone, and one in 10 suffer intense loneliness.
And this US article, points out that Americans are more solitary than ever before. In 1950, less than 10% of American households contained only one person. By 2010, nearly 27% of households had just one person.
What Is Loneliness?
Being lonely means not feeling connected or cared for, it's not about being physically alone. You can be lonely while working for a large company surrounded by colleagues all day long or living with a large family.
Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing. Solitude can be lovely yet crowded parties can be agony. It's an unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship.
As social beings, most of us feel the need for rewarding social contact and relationships. One common definition of loneliness is that it is the feeling we get when our need for this type of contact is not met.
It seems sadly too easy for those without children, no religious group, and no immediate social circle of any kind, to go unnoticed. A shocking example was Yvette Vickers, American actress and pin-up, who was clearly left isolated in old age as she was dead for a year before anyone found her mummified body.
It Affects Your Health
How often you see friends and family could have a significant effect on health according to this article. It's not just mental health problems like depression, stress, anxiety, and a lack of confidence. But there's growing evidence that social isolation is connected with an increased risk of physical ill health as well.
Despite its deleterious effect on health, it seems loneliness is one of the first things ordinary Americans spend their money unwittingly achieving. Wealth brings the move to a larger house outside of the city - away from the masses - to then have an over reliance on a car and to spend more time driving alone.
Are You Lonely?
You're likely to know the answer to this already but there is a UCLA Loneliness Scale used by medical professionals to assess your level of loneliness. You can try a version of the lonely quiz here.
We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.
This article places Facebook at the forefront of this unexpected loneliness and even an increase in depression. One study of Facebook users found, "If two women each talk to their friends the same amount of time, but one of them spends more time reading about friends on Facebook as well, the one reading tends to grow slightly more depressed."
Yet John Cacioppo, The director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, and the world's leading expert on loneliness, has a different opinion. He says, "Facebook can be terrific, if we use it properly. It's like a car. You can drive it to pick up your friends. Or you can drive alone." The problem, then, is that we unintentionally invite loneliness.
What To Do
New government data suggests the UK may be one of the loneliest places to live in Europe but there is the Campaign to End Loneliness trying to raise the issue and to help.
If you are affected you need to remember that loneliness is very common and, in that way, you are not experiencing something unusual. It's not a defect in you but something that can be changed. It is simply a sign that important needs are not being met. There's some good advice here about nurturing yourself and seeking support.