Winter is here. In Canada, we can sometimes feel the icy cold of the season down to our bones.
At this time of year, the shorter days and colder weather can have an effect on our moods. We all react differently to Canada’s changing seasons, but for some, seasonal affective disorder affects them at the same time every year, usually in the winter when there is less natural light.
Whether it is associated with the season or not, loneliness is a feeling that many Canadians share. In response to a question on the subject in the Canadian Social Survey in August and September 2021, more than 1 in 10 people aged 15 and older said that they always or often felt lonely.
Young people in Canada reported experiencing loneliness more frequently than older people. Among youth aged 15 to 24 years, nearly one in four (23%) said they always or often felt lonely. This compared with 15% of those who were slightly older, aged 25 to 34. Seniors aged 75 and older (14%) reported feeling lonely more often than did those aged 65 to 74 (9%).
Although most restrictions around social gatherings had been lifted at the time of the survey, the worsening COVID-19 situation over the holiday season led to the reintroduction of such restrictions. The isolating context of the pandemic continues to impact quality of life for many Canadians. Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly one-quarter (24%) of people who lived alone stated that they always or often felt lonely, more than double the proportion for those who were living with others (11%).
Frequent feelings of loneliness are associated with poorer mental health and lower levels of overall life satisfaction. In August and September 2021, close to half (49%) of those who said that they always or often felt lonely reported that their mental health was either fair or poor.
Without social connections and supports, people’s health and overall well-being can suffer. Time spent with family and loved ones is especially valuable during the holiday season; the gift of support from family, friends and co-workers is important. In August and September 2021, among those who said that they rarely or never felt lonely, a much smaller share (7%) reported fair or poor mental health. A strong sense of belonging and support from social connections can greatly increase overall happiness and well-being.
Although we all experience periods of unhappiness or become temporarily down when life throws us a curveball, feeling lonely for extended periods of time may have greater health implications. About 11% of men and 16% of women in Canada will experience major depression in the course of their lives; such mental health issues often contribute to increased feelings of loneliness.
Depression can limit your quality of life, affect relationships, lead to lost time from work or school, and contribute to other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases. Talking to your family doctor or a mental health professional is essential if you or someone close to you suffers from depression.
In some way or another, loneliness affects us all. For many people with depression, learning that they are not alone is actually the first step towards recovery.
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