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​How Isolation Leads to Loneliness

Published: 02 July 2019 Tags: By James Harris

Statistics consistently show that LGBT people are more at risk of feelings of loneliness or being socially isolated. Let’s talk about this.

By James Harris


Although we’re at greater risk of isolation, LGBT people don’t all live in remote, ramshackle huts scattered throughout the wilderness; unlike geographical isolation, social isolation is less obvious and more difficult to escape.

Unfortunately, as members of a minority we are spread further apart and therefore less likely to encounter others who share our specific struggles, desires, needs and frustrations. Many non-LGBT people are allies, and we benefit enormously from their invaluable friendship and support. However, though the human experience is largely universal, sometimes there is a limit to how much someone who isn’t LGBT can relate to LGBT issues.

Sometimes isolation – and the loneliness it can lead to – is a result of feelings of being separate due to society telling us we are different.

According to Age UK:

“Research shows that older LGBT people are especially vulnerable to loneliness as they are more likely to be single, live alone, and have lower levels of contact with relatives.”

This isn’t surprising, and not just because older people are more at risk, but because they are more likely to come out in later life when opportunities to make new friends are less available, and more likely to be estranged from family members unwilling to accept them.

At a time when health services and support can be most needed, older LGBT people:

“…are also less likely to engage with local services, with recent findings showing that over 4/5 older LGBT people do not trust professionals to understand their culture or lifestyle.”

Being LGBT means you can encounter greater obstacles to social connection and support at any age, particularly if you are older. Sense of societal belonging is undermined – but it’s important to note that this is not necessarily because we are LGBT, rather because society still isn’t as inclusive and services aren’t as accessible for LGBT people as they should be.

It is society that needs to change, not us.

Living in rural areas can also increase the likelihood of isolation and loneliness if you are LGBT, but not only because of geographical isolation; attitudes in rural areas tend to be less open-minded. Gay farmers across the UK have shared their stories, opening up about their struggle to meet a partner and find acceptance, and although I’m not a farmer, as a gay man who grew up in a small rural town I know what it can be like. Though grateful for surrounding countryside where I could escape the feeling of not being able to fit, I never felt I belonged, or lived among people I wanted to belong with.

Though many differences are comparatively inconsequential and needn’t be cause to feel separate, sometimes loneliness is to be surrounded by people who don't understand, acknowledge, appreciate or accept us. Although it is useful to know that there are people around us who care and are within reach if we need them, it is possible to feel less isolated and lonely even without company, when connected to others far away despite the distance. Perhaps in some cases the antidote to loneliness has less to do with close physical proximity to others, and more to do with realising that we are not alone in our particular human experience.

Whether in person or indirectly from afar via mediums such as the internet, what matters remains fundamentally the same: Meaningful connection. Accessibility of support. Being part of a community. Opportunities for social interaction. Having our difficulties and disadvantages acknowledged.

For others to see us where we are and find us there.


If you feel your LGBT identity is hindering access to medical services, reach out to our Pride in Practice team here:

Email: pip@lgbt.foundation
Website: https://lgbt.foundation/who-were-here-for/pride-in...

How we can help you deal with isolation and loneliness: https://lgbt.foundation/how-we-can-help-you

Links

Isolation & loneliness in older generation: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2019/05/14/loneliness-i...

Age UK: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/policy-research/loneliness-research-and-resources/combating-loneliness-amongst-older-lgbt-people-a-case-study-of-the-sage-project-in-leeds/#