Isolation and Loneliness as Risk Factors for Suicide and Self-Harm: A Rising Concern

By Caroline Harroe (Harmless CEO)

Suicide and self harm are major public health concerns, with significant social and economic costs. Isolation and loneliness are increasingly recognised as risk factors for these outcomes, particularly among young people.

Isolation is defined as the objective lack of social relationships, while loneliness is the subjective experience of feeling alone or disconnected from others. Both isolation and loneliness can have a negative impact on mental and physical health, and they have been linked to a range of adverse outcomes, including suicide and self harm.

The Impact of Isolation and Loneliness on Suicide and Self Harm
There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that isolation and loneliness are associated with an increased risk of suicide and self harm. A recent meta-analysis of 15 studies found that loneliness was associated with a 26% increase in the risk of suicide, while social isolation was associated with a 32% increase in the risk of suicide. Another study found that young people who reported feeling lonely were more likely to engage in self harm, even after controlling for other factors such as depression and anxiety.

The Rising Concern of Isolation and Loneliness
Isolation and loneliness are on the rise in many societies, due to a number of factors including social media, urbanisation and the increasing mobility of populations. This is a particular concern for young people, who are more likely to report feeling lonely than older adults. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the problem of isolation and loneliness, as social distancing measures led to people spending more time alone.

Isolation and loneliness are serious risk factors for suicide and self harm, particularly among young people. It is important to be aware of these risks and to take steps to address them. This includes promoting social connection, building supportive relationships and reducing stigma around mental health.


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