Someone you care about appears lonely

Questions and strategies to help you have a supportive conversation when someone you care about appears to be lonely.

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This is one of a series of topics in the Supportive conversation library. Review the guidelines including what to do if you are concerned for another’s safety before engaging in the conversation.

What do you notice?

You notice someone you care about might be lonely. Perhaps there is a significant change in their routine (such as sleeping a lot more or withdrawing from regular social activities). Or you may notice their appearance or personal hygiene has been neglected and they are eating poorly. You might also hear negative self-talk such as having the perception that “no one truly gets them” or that they have no “close connections.”

What do you need to understand?

Some form of social support or connection is important to one’s well-being. Feeling connected to others is a human need that, when unmet, can create stress and aggravate existing health conditions. Loneliness – which isn’t the same as being alone – is when someone feels that their relationships don’t meet their need for connection, support or feeling understood. Loneliness is a state of mind.

Examples of the experience of loneliness are when:

  • someone is around other people but doesn’t feel like they fit in
  • someone is around other people but doesn’t receive the support or connection they are seeking
  • someone loses an important person in their life (see more on loss), or
  • someone is alone but wants to be with others.

What do you need to consider?

If you are concerned about someone who may be experiencing loneliness, consider this: while it’s normal to experience short-term bouts of loneliness at times throughout one’s life, long-term feelings of loneliness lead to a chronic condition that can negatively impact overall health if unaddressed. Loneliness that persists can be linked to depression, anxiety, and increased risk of other health problems such as cardiovascular disease and stroke.

The experience of loneliness can affect anyone and is not exclusive to any personality type. When someone’s experiencing loneliness, they likely don’t feel understood or supported. Approach conversations knowing this context and framing language through a supportive lens, while also being conscious of communicating how much you value the individual and the relationship. Don’t be afraid to ask about how they are feeling. Having someone who is willing to listen is a great comfort. It also validates the person’s experience while challenging their belief about being alone in the world and not well understood.

Engaging in a supportive conversation?

Have the right mindset

Come into the conversation from a supportive place. Be careful not to let your own hidden agenda, such as wanting to fix or influence the individual, play a role. Avoid “you” statements, such as “you always do…”. These can make the person feel judged or invalidated. Be curious and approach the conversation with the mindset that you don’t know anything about their experiences.

Questions to check your mindset:

  • What are my assumptions about this situation?
  • How will I keep my assumptions out of the conversation and be supportive?
  • What do I hope to achieve by having this conversation?
  • How can I keep my own desires for an outcome from interfering with my ability to be supportive?


Notice changes in behaviour that aren’t typical for the person and ask about them – but don’t add your own assumptions or opinions about why those changes may be happening. If you’re wrong, the person may be discouraged from continuing the conversation.

Examples of “noticing” conversation starters:

  • “I noticed you seem to be sleeping a lot lately, and I’m concerned. Did you want to talk about how you’re feeling?”
  • “I noticed that in conversation, it seems like you feel that you don’t have a lot of close relationships or people don’t get you. Is that how you’re feeling?”
  • “You’ve been mentioning that it’s been hard to eat well. What do you think’s impacting that?”

Preparing for the response

Not all supportive conversations lead to an understanding of how you can help. Remember, the goal of a supportive conversation is to understand the individual’s needs and wants and whether they’re open to assistance. The guidelines below can help prepare you to respond when the person’s open or not to a discussion.

When the individual doesn’t appear open to discussion – a closed-door response:

Not everyone’s comfortable being asked how they feel or exploring reasons why they’re behaving differently. You might get avoidant responses, like “I’m fine” or “It’s none of your business.” If this happens, you can reiterate your concern and leave an opening for them to come back to you and share when they’re ready.

You could say:

  • “I was concerned about you and wanted to ask. If you say you’re okay, I’ll trust you. If that changes, I’m here to support you if you need me.”

If the supportive conversation ends here, you should feel good that you noticed and asked about their well-being. Try not to take the response or tone personally despite the conversation not going anywhere. The individual may not be ready to discuss the issue yet, but you’ve shown you care. It takes courage to initiate these types of conversations, and it’s not your responsibility to force another to notice or change their behaviour.

When the individual appears to be open to discussion – an open-door response:

If the person confirms they feel differently or that life circumstances have changed for them, you’ve opened the door to having a supportive conversation.

The next statement might be:

  • Tell me more. I want to better understand what you’re going through.

Continue to follow the guidelines below for having a supportive conversation.

Continuing the conversation


Listen for where the individual feels unsupported or doesn’t feel their needs are being met. When they’re finished speaking, confirm what you heard by rephrasing it and asking if you understand correctly.

Examples of “listening” in the conversation include:

  • “I’m hearing you feel exhausted from trying to connect with others. Is that right?”
  • “It sounds like you are questioning your self-worth around how people perceive you, and thinking they don’t want to spend time with you or understand you – is that what I’m hearing you say?”
  • “You’ve shared that you’re not eating well as you don’t have the energy to make healthy meals. Is that correct?”

Highlight strengths

Mention and highlight strengths you see in the person. Some examples could be courage or persistence in dealing with the situation they just shared with you.

Here’s an example of “calling out strengths” in the conversation:

  • “I’m so glad you shared your experiences of feeling disconnected from others. It’s hard to share our feelings and feel vulnerable. I hear you and want to support you.”

Identify support

Identify what support the individual wants and connect them with relevant resources. Don’t insist on support or resources they don’t want or aren’t ready to accept.

Examples of “identifying support” in the conversation include:

  • “You’ve identified the need for more time alone for self-care and time to review life approaches to reduce stress. I know you have ideas about how you could make this happen, so how can I best support you at this time?”*
  • “I can support you with finding additional support”

*Note: If there’s a limit on how you can be supportive, be specific about how you can help. The offer of support needs to be realistic and in line with your own abilities and available time. Otherwise, talk about what’s realistic for both of you to do at this time to create change in the other’s life.

Create an action plan

Create an action plan with the individual to leverage their strengths and follow up on a regular basis, adding additional resources when they’re ready. Give a clear timeline or understanding of how you’ll be supportive.

Here’s an example of “creating an action plan” in the conversation:

  • “I’m so glad we had this conversation. You mentioned a few things you wanted to address to create some change in your life. I’ll follow through with my offer of support in the next week.”

Thank you for being supportive! You’ve taken the time to learn to have a conversation that lets your loved one or friend know you notice and care about them. By showing concern, you can help them evaluate whether they should continue as is or address certain elements in their life. For some, this may be the beginning of a journey that will require the assistance of additional support services or professionals.

Additional resources

To be an effective supporter, it’s helpful to understand more of what your family member or friend’s experiencing. Check out these resources to provide more context about their experiences:

Contributors include.articlesJessica GrassMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2022 to present

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