Understanding loneliness and isolation

The words “loneliness” and “social isolation” are often used interchangeably, but loneliness is not the same as social isolation. People can be isolated (alone) yet not feel lonely. People can feel lonely and yet be surrounded by people. 

Loneliness is a subjective feeling about the gap between a person’s desired levels of social contact and their actual level of social contact. It refers to the perceived quality of the person’s relationships. Loneliness is never desired and lessening these feelings can take a long time.

Social isolation is an objective measure of the number of contacts that people have. It is about the quantity and not quality of relationships. People may choose to have a small number of contacts.

When they feel socially isolated, this can be overcome relatively quickly by increasing the number of people they are in contact with.