Sian at home with her dogs Sami and Frodo.
Loneliness is an experience that affects almost everyone at some point in their lives. For some young people, that experience gets better on its own as they progress through their high-school years, higher education and working life. But for others, they might need some help from their parents.
How loneliness felt for Isabella and Sian
Isabella didn’t always experience feelings of loneliness. ‘Until the age of 12 or 13, I was outgoing and had plenty of friends.’
Things began to change as she grew older. ‘I became withdrawn, irritable and reclusive at school, and it even got to the point where I would miss large chunks of class altogether. For several years, I probably only saw one friend during the entire two months of summer holidays.’
Sian’s story began in a similar way. ‘Until Year 10, it would be rare for me to spend more than a few hours with people my own age outside of school.’
Her feelings of loneliness had a huge impact on her family as well as herself. ‘I began to have excessive mood swings, and panic attacks so severe they would keep the whole house up for most of the night.’
The feelings of isolation were hard enough to deal with, but the impact on her family was especially tough. ‘This caused significant stress for my family. I felt they were angry with me. I didn’t feel as if I could reach out and tell them what was causing these outbreaks.’
Teens’ feelings of guilt and shame can make it difficult for them to seek help from their family. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for you to have conversations with your child about this. Have a look here at some ways to encourage open communication with your teen.
Sian at a winery in Orange, NSW.
How Isabella and Sian started to get back on track
Isabella didn’t really want help from her parents. Like Sian, she found her feelings embarrassing and hard to talk about. Thankfully, she never felt completely helpless on her own.
‘I tend to view myself as a pretty independent person who’d rather tackle my problems in silence than ask for help in difficult situations.’
‘I began seeing the school psychologist and a team of other mental health professionals to start to get my mental health back on track. After a few years, I gradually started to make and maintain friendships and I could feel the burden of isolation and angst lift off my shoulders. I began to live my life again.’
As we all know, high-school friendship groups can be toxic. By spending some time with herself, Sian was happy to escape that.
‘The idea that I had to make as many friends as possible stopped being important to me, because of my experiences with toxic friendship groups. Instead, I spent time with people I was close to and focused on doing well in sport and at school.’
But when self-care began to border on social isolation, problems arose.
‘I avoided situations that made me anxious, rather than addressing the cause of those feelings. Time alone can be really healthy and constructive. But too much time alone can make you feel bored and unmotivated, and can lead you to turn away from activities that used to make you feel happy.’
Eventually, she was able to realise the importance of balance, something every teenager needs in their life.
‘Importantly, I was able to figure out the difference between the isolation I needed in order to be kind to myself, and the loneliness that made me feel tired, unmotivated and hopeless.’
The role their parents were able to play
As she grew older, Sian learnt that her feelings and behaviour were part of a broader mental health condition she was eventually able to deal with. But she only achieved that because of the support her parents provided her. ‘My parents didn’t know the details, but they could clearly see that I was struggling. They encouraged me to see the school counsellor, several psychologists and a GP.’
But that wasn’t the only way her parents were able to help.
‘They continued to lend me a hand with my school work and helped me to participate in a sport I really enjoyed (despite the frequent 4 AM starts on weekends). I learnt that it takes time for loneliness to go away. My parents couldn’t “fix” my isolation in life, but they did teach me how I could strengthen my mental health and develop meaningful connections with people around me,’ Sian says.
Isabella agrees. She says that if all else fails, just being a positive and helpful presence in your teen’s life can be more helpful than you’d think.
‘Communication is so important, but if you can’t get them to open up, don’t be hard on yourself. Being there, being a solid figure in a world that they may feel is crumbling, is the best thing you can do.’