In a previous blog post, we talked about the alarming link between loneliness and a wide range of physical ailments. So how can you work with those behavioral health clients who are struggling with loneliness, to help improve their mental and physical outcomes?
First step: Identifying at-risk clients
Loneliness can be challenging to treat, especially because it can be difficult to identify. A person can be alone without feeling lonely, and even those with active social lives may feel lonely. Someone who is struggling with loneliness may not mention it to health providers. Loneliness can also resemble or accompany other mental health issues, such as depression.
One way to identify loneliness is to use appropriate assessments and questionnaires. These might be tools you already use to screen clients for depression, anxiety, and other conditions. Other assessments, such as the UCLA Loneliness Scale, are more targeted.
Understanding loneliness risk factors can also help identify individuals in need. These may include:
- Living alone
- Rarely leaving the home
- Loss of family members due to death or relocation
- Changes that disrupt social ties, such as job loss or moving
- Struggling with chronic illness
- Lack of integration in a community
- Spending more time online rather than face-to-face interactions
- Communication difficulties, such as language barriers or hearing loss
Targeting these risk factors can help prevent some of the health effects of loneliness.
Taking steps to combat loneliness
You can suggest a variety of interventions for your behavioral health client struggling with loneliness, from therapy to lifestyle changes. As always in behavioral health, the success of any intervention will depend on many different factors.
Dr. Bernadette DeMuri-Maletic, medical director of Associated Mental Health Consultants and the TMS center of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, suggests cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a possible intervention. This option may be particularly effective for clients who have distorted thinking that may have affected their relationships and social interactions.
Social skills training can also help with loneliness. This may be done in the context of CBT, or another form of therapy. Often used for individuals with autism, social skills training helps with initiating conversations, empathy, and assertiveness.
If your client is also struggling with a more severe mental illness, look for specific community resources meant to encourage social interactions. One example is Clubhouse, or Clubhouse International, which aims to help individuals with mental illness “lead productive, happy lives.”
Providers can also recommend simple lifestyle changes, such as:
- Finding and joining local clubs or group activities, such as exercise or book groups
- Taking a class, particularly one that encourages interactions and participation, such as a language class
- Singles or speed dating events
- Inviting a friend or acquaintance out for a walk
- Inviting a coworker to lunch
- Scheduling regular phone calls with a loved one
These changes may not yield immediate results, but they can help build better habits and may lead to more fulfilling relationships.
Technology can’t replace all the benefits of face-to-face human interactions. It can, however, provide essential support for your behavioral health practice.
BestNotes’ EHR solution helps you track clients from intake/assessment through discharge, giving you a full picture of their health so you can make better decisions that lead to better outcomes. Our OutcomeTools feature helps track outcomes with standardized and customized questionnaires. To learn how we can make your behavioral health and addiction treatment organization more effective and profitable, contact us today and schedule your free demo!