Loneliness – that feeling of isolation from the people, community and the institutions we need to make our society work.
The gold standard for measuring loneliness is the UCLA Loneliness Scale. It only takes a few minutes to complete: just note your answer for each statement and add your scores together.
Take the test
|1. How often do you feel that you are ‘in tune’ with the people around you?||4||3||2||1|
|2. How often do you feel that you lack companionship?||1||2||3||4|
|3. How often do you feel that there is no-one you can turn to?||1||2||3||4|
|4. How often do you feel alone||1||2||3||4|
|5. How often do you feel part of a group of friends?||4||3||2||1|
|6. How often do you feel that you have a lot in common with the people around you?||4||3||2||1|
|7. How often do you feel that you are no longer close to anyone?||1||2||3||4|
|8. How often do you feel that your interests and ideas are not shared by those around you?||1||2||3||4|
|9. How often do you feel outgoing and friendly?||4||3||2||1|
|10. How often do you feel close to people?||4||3||2||1|
|11. How often do you feel left out.||1||2||3||4|
|12. How often do you feel that your relationships with others are not meaningful?||1||2||3||4|
|13. How often do you feel that no one really knows you well?||1||2||3||4|
|14. How often do you feel isolated from others?||1||2||3||4|
|15. How often do you feel you can find companionship when you want it?||4||3||2||1|
|16. How often do you feel that there are people who really understand you?||4||3||2||1|
|17. How often do you feel shy?||1||2||3||4|
|18. How often do you feel that people are around you but not with you?||1||2||3||4|
|19. How often do you feel that there are people you can talk to?||4||3||2||1|
|20. How often do you feel that there are people you can turn to?||4||3||2||1|
If you scored over 43, you would be considered lonely.
You may want to run through this again using a wider definition of loneliness: thinking about not only your relationships with friends, family, work colleagues and neighbours but also your relationships with your employer, politicians and the state. How does this change your score?
This can be a useful reflection as loneliness is not only feeling lacking of company or interactions. It is about feeling unsupported and un-cared for by our fellow citizens, employers, community, institutions and government. It’s not just about lacking those human connections but feeling economically and politically excluded as well.
The impact of Loneliness
The chemical response to loneliness is essentially the same as the ‘fight / flight’ response. It is this stress response that fuels some of the most insidious health effects of loneliness. So, when we are talking about loneliness, we are not just talking about lonely minds but lonely bodies.
Now, we experience stress responses frequently, but typically once the threat is over, we return to our base level of responsiveness. However, when lonely, neither the stress response, nor the reset happens as it should. When lonely, cholesterol levels rise faster, blood pressure rises faster and cortisol levels rise faster. Further, the amygdala – the ‘fight / flight / freeze part of the brain – keeps a danger signal for longer than it would do otherwise. This will be familiar territory for those whom have worked with the brain model I use.
So, what now?
This needn’t be all doom and gloom. In terms of increasing our overall happiness, developing an active, gratifying, social life – especially when engaging with others in activities meaningful to us – is the single most effective thing we can do.
Ask Yourself: What bridges will you build in your life that will help others, by building meaningful connections?