Mikayla Spicer is a third year journalism and creative intelligence student at UTS. She likes historical fiction novels, green tea and patting dogs.
Chronic loneliness is Australia's next public health epidemic, according to experts.
Research by Relationships Australia found that a staggering 1.5 million Australians have been living with loneliness for nine years or more.
This time period is categorised as chronic loneliness.
Margaret*, 28, is one Australian struggling to make social connections and meaningful relationships.
She moved out of home onto a university campus and then to a single apartment after finishing her degree.
Margaret struggled with depression and self-esteem issues as a teenager which affected her romantic relationships and friendships.
“I will compromise my relationships with people. I will have toxic relationships with people just because I will feel like I’ve got friends...like I’ve got company.”
Being a fat, ugly girl is a very very hard thing, especially a fat, rejected girl - Margaret
Based on the findings from 16 waves of Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia survey data from 2001-2016, the research was conducted by Relationships Australia and called Is Australian experiencing an epidemic of loneliness?
It revealed that one in 10 Australians lack social support and one in six is experiencing emotional loneliness.
Some of the health issues that impact people with loneliness include depression, anxiety, social isolation, compromised immune systems and poor cardio health.
Dr Michelle Lim, psychologist and senior lecturer at Swinburne University said loneliness was Australia’s next public health epidemic.
However, she said it was a misconception that loneliness was the same as depression.
“When we talk about loneliness, it’s directly related to how you feel in relationships. Even if you are lonely, it doesn’t mean you’re depressed, you might be very content with some parts of your life. It’s important to make that distinction.”
Dr Lim said her research showed loneliness being experienced in relationships, while depression often related to lifestyle.
However, clinical psychologist Julie Berg, said: “Plenty of people have broken relationships, or domestic violence and they have a depressive episode after that, so you could draw the arrow the other way.”
"You could say loneliness goes with lifestyle and depression relates to relationships.”
Margaret lives in Rockhampton, six hours away from her mother in Brisbane.
At times she was calling her mother once a day because she was desperate for social interaction.
“Maybe that’s a part of being single and alone. You gravitate towards your family because they’re the only people you have. So you let them dictate how your life goes.”
Margaret has unfollowed people on social media in the past because it’s hard to see their announcements such as baby announcements and marriages.
‘It just reminds me of how much I missed out on in my 20s because I was fat and weird and awkward,” she said.
Margaret’s loneliness stems from her issues with weight and self-esteem.
“Being a fat, ugly girl is a very very hard thing, especially a fat, rejected girl...”
Margaret has lost 50kgs in the past 10 months.
“It’s very uplifting and life is much easier to bear.”
She was driven to surgery by the need to improve not only her physical health, but also her mental health.
She admitted, however, that finding a partner was the main reason she chose to have the surgery done.
“I remember crying alone on the floor of the bathroom because I was so lonely, and because I didn’t have anybody. And I felt so ugly and unwanted and the longer that you are alone, the larger that fear that you’re going to remain alone is compounded.
It just becomes this big huge beast...It’s still a beast to this day, that I am still alone at the age of 28.”
Ms Berg said her clients don’t regard loneliness as a mental illness.
“I don’t have people coming in saying I’m lonely, you know what I mean? Everyone gets lonely.”
Dr Lim and other researchers at Swinburne are processing data in the upcoming months that will provide more insights into experiences of loneliness in Australia.
They have found differences in men and women in the data already processed that possibly indicates the different needs for social connection.
“So with loneliness, I think women tend to report it more because maybe their needs are higher, or maybe there are more women involved in the study. We don’t know which it is at the moment. With the men, it might be that they’re thinking ‘there’s something wrong with me', or maybe there’s underreporting [of loneliness].”
Relationships Australia created a campaign this year to find out the main causes of loneliness.
Alison Brook, National Executive Officer of Relationships Australia, said the research would to allow the organisation to consider what social policies could be developed to address chronic loneliness.
The research revealed the major risk groups and also asked what factors contributed to the experiences of loneliness.
Ms Brook said: “Of the groups we looked at, the biggest, the really outstanding spikes were in male single parents, where 40% of men who were single parents, that’s two in five, talk about loneliness. That’s high. That’s very high.”
Often men rely on their partners to create a social group in which they live, so if they have a separation, or their partner dies, they develop loneliness.
It’s not just Australians that are taking note, either.
Depression and loneliness are being recognised as international health concerns.
In January this year, the U.K. Government appointed Tracey Crouch Minister for Loneliness after research showed the dangers of loneliness.
In 2015, Australian Bureau of Statistics released data showing 8 out of 10 Australians felt lonely.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXla51eAESE (Loneliness on campus)