People who organise societies, sports activities and table quizzes are the unsung heroes of the social world

Life without enough social connection is a poorer life than is good for us

I’ve always been a bit of a loner but I don’t like loneliness. Loneliness is when you don’t want to be alone, when it’s painful and feels like a dull background ache.

The coming academic year will bring some – hopefully most – young students into a new world of relationships and activities. For others, it may bring unwanted isolation.

Similar considerations apply to remote working. This very welcome, in my opinion, development can mean opportunities for closeness with family and friends, or just an escape from the commute. But for the person who doesn’t have close family or friends, it can bring unwanted loneliness.

Some research published by the BBC suggests that young people are lonelier than older people. It’s something for colleges, societies and students’ unions to be very sensitive towards. You don’t go to college to meet people – you go for an education. Yet, in the long run, meeting people might be the most important, even the most profound, part of the experience. And not meeting people could be the worst.


A study by researchers at the University of Limerick, published last week, suggests that the focus should be on the prevention of loneliness more so than waiting for it to happen and then treating it.

I can trace the vast majority of my social networks today, directly or indirectly, to the workplace, going right back to my very earliest jobs.

Not one of my employers hired me to build up my social networks. But that’s what happens and, in the overall context of a person’s life, it might come to mean more than the work.

I love that the tyranny of the five days a week in the office has been broken. But the social side matters: I would go so far as to say that, for some, it was all they got out of work apart from their pay.

Sometimes, we treat people who organise college societies, sports activities, table quizzes, those who go around with big cards for you to sign because someone’s getting married, we treat them as add-ons and take them for granted. I would argue that they are the unsung heroes and heroines of the social world.

Ireland’s Institute of Public Health states that: “Loneliness can affect individuals of all ages, particularly older adults, and is associated with a range of negative health outcomes, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety and cognitive decline.” (For more see the “loneliness” section of

It’s because of these effects that in some health services, including in Ireland, GPs will prescribe social activities to isolated people. (check out Catherine Cleary’s 2019 article, What is social prescribing and how it can benefit your health).

Essentially, the GP links the patient to a person in the community who in turn links them to social groups and activities. Catherine’s article appeared in April 2019. A year later, we had all entered a series of lockdowns. We are still only learning the effects of that enforced loneliness on us all.

Aside from its health effects, loneliness feels emotionally and physically painful.

Early in my working life, I was the first and only person on the top floor of the building in which I worked. I also lived on my own in a bedsit and hadn’t built up a group of friends or acquaintances in Dublin. It was only when I was moved downstairs to a crowded office that I realised how bad that isolation had been, amounting at times to a sort of physical ache. The gloom and tension fell away in my new social setting.

So here is something worth bearing in mind in the workplace, in colleges and in communities: life without enough social connection – whatever “enough” might be – is a poorer life than is good for us.

It’s worth it, for the sake of adding to the sum of human happiness, to build sensitivity to that fact into our new working systems and our new and developing systems of communication.

Adding to the sum of human happiness is a worthwhile pursuit especially in our challenging times.

And it’s best done together.

  • Padraig O’Morain (Instagram, Twitter: @padraigomorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His books include Acceptance - Make change and move forward; his daily mindfulness reminder is available free by email (