Loneliness NZ

Disabled and lonely

Parents feel incredibly blessed when giving birth to an outwardly healthy baby; and through life many people who see someone with an obvious impairment get a sudden rush of feeling particularly grateful for having all their limbs and general good health. But in the main, most people take for granted fully functioning physical, sensory, and mental health.

For those of you who were born with an impairment, or have through illness, disease or old age, acquired one or more impairments… you have our empathy. One of your most considerable challenges is to get others to not define you by your impairment …and for people and your environment not to disable you further from living your life in the best way you can and contributing to society as fully as you can.

You are aware how little understanding there is about the complexity of your life, and others, living with an impairment. You appreciate the limitation of choices some people with impairments might have:- where they can go to school and study, how and where they work, and how and where they can socialise.

Undoubtedly for many of you it has been a lonely experience getting to grips with what limitation of choice you have, or how you adjust to your new surroundings, or learning about new barriers that disable you further. And for some of you, you live with a genuinely socially isolating experience every day.

So if you are one of the many people who feels lonely as a result of having a disability, or you know of someone who feels loneliness from this, then read on. In fact even if you suspect others might be lonely, and they stoically say they aren’t, it’s worth understanding loneliness and disability better.

Scratching the surface of being lonely

Just as you might find it hard to understand how people who have no impairments can be lonely, it’s also hard for them to really grasp how very lonely you might be: what it’s like:

Feeling intense exhaustion

…as you did all the exercises that might enable you to walk again, and still not being able to.

Living in silence

…only able to hear your own thoughts…not the laughter, not the joking around.

Losing your mind

… confusing details of events that happened and forgetting others completely.

Feeling dumb

…when all the children around you can quickly get what the teacher means and you just don’t understand.

Feeling like a lab rat

….with all the medical people prodding and poking and everyone talking as if you aren’t there.

Having a physical, sensory, mental or learning impairment gives rise to many challenges with regard to feeling lonely…


… and in addition to these, you undoubtedly identify with many of the same loneliness problems that aren’t related to being disabled.

The New Zealand Disability Survey 2013 was comprehensive, and gave an insight into the different self-reported disabilities that over a million New Zealanders identify as having. Disability in this context is when at least one impairment type

limited your ability to carry out everyday activities.

Prevalence of loneliness

If you have any impairment that leads to you feeling lonely it might be helpful to know you are not the only one.

Our 2018 New Zealand General Social Survey has really highlighted how much people with a disability status experienced more loneliness than people without a disability status. So if you are amongst the 24.8% of people in this disability group that have felt lonely all of the time, most or even some of the last four weeks, we are concerned about your loneliness. And we feel much the same for you if you are one of the additional 22.1% that felt lonely a little of the time.

Disabled and lonely - 2018
Column chart of number of disabled New Zealanders by age group and type of disability

While people feel lonely for many reasons, and your feelings might be just as strong as anothers, we can understand that some impairments might cause a greater likelihood of loneliness. Examples include, you suddenly becoming fully deaf and being unable to easily communicate with the vast majority of the population. Being a senior with mobility and agility issues, combined with hearing and vision impairments, you are increasingly limited to where you can go unaided, and you decreasingly can easily participate in everyday conversations. Children with learning and speaking difficulties might feel more socially isolated, and can be on the receiving end of bullying – making loneliness significant.

A significant number of you with disability in a private home, are reporting that you are not getting enough contact with your family and friends outside of your home – actually as many as a quarter of the 860,000 people responding in the Disability Survey 2013! While there isn’t a remarkable difference between how men and women feel about contact with your families and friends outside your homes, you feel this way more than people with no disability, regardless of your age group.
Column charts of social contact with family and friends in the last four weeks for disabled adults aged 15+ living in private households

Exposing loneliness

Feeling socially isolated occurs when people, like you, are not connected into their communities in a meaningful way. Society, other people and we ourselves unwittingly contribute to loneliness.


To name a few, loneliness as a person who has a disability might be exacerbated when:

  • Your home is not set up for you to fully function, and so your options are further limited.
  • Services outside of your home do not provide sufficient, if any access, for you to use a wheel chair, and are not equipped to help the blind or the deaf communicate with others well.
  • Your family and friends struggle to relate to you in the same was as before the accident which disfigured your face.
  • The medical profession prescribe so many tablets that the side effects feel just as debilitating as your impairment.
  • You have an impairment that no one can see or people don’t understand or is still stigmatised.
  • Your impairment worsens to the extent that you have to move out of your home.

These are very real issues for you;
and some are not quick fixes! So despite these challenges it’s vital you actively find ways to ensure that you – and those around you – are emotionally healthy.

Exhibiting signs of being lonely

Solitude is very important for people to reflect and to come to grips with their situation. Being lonely for short periods is also not necessarily unhealthy. What we are considering is the type of loneliness which is prolonged and might be damaging to an individual’s health and wellbeing.

Some people talk about their loneliness; other’s don’t; Some might not recognise that they are actually suffering from loneliness.

When people are already lonely, having people around you that you aren’t able to connect with on a deeper level, might even make your loneliness worse.

Research has shown that when socially isolated people aren’t getting enough regular human contact that can create problems with their family members and people who they do end up talking to.

This manifests behaviour such as:

  • Needing high levels of attention from people around you so that you aren’t left alone with just your thoughts.
  • Getting angry and frustrated with people that you come into contact with because you have no independence.
  • Withdrawing from your family with increased thoughts of suicide because you just don’t feel like your life is worth living.
  • Becoming more socially isolated because the effort to try and communicate is too hard.
  • Increasing your visits to the doctor because she is the only person who truly understands what you are going through and treats you like normal.
  • Getting tearful all the time because it’s really hard always being treated differently to all your friends.

These are just the surface of the ways you might be showing signs of being lonely… and that you could recognise in others.
So where to from here?

Conquering loneliness

We appreciate…

you all have a unique story.

How long you have been lonely;  What you believe causes your particular loneliness; and what you have already tried to alleviate the loneliness.

To get to the heart of your loneliness we would like to get to know you!

Your personality, your eccentricities, and your values are all part of what makes you feel your loneliness more than some others.

Your next step

We appreciate the trust you would place in us to talk openly and frankly – so we promise no judgements – genuine empathy, respect and confidentiality.

Then when we have understood you better, we can help you move forward. Help you form better connections with your spread out communities, with your friends and your families…wherever they are in the world.

If you are ready to take the next step, click the button to get started addressing your loneliness:

People feel lonely for many reasons. To learn more about other minority and lonely categories, select one of the coloured boxes below, or scroll down the “I’m feeling lonely” menu.

Loneliness NZ square I'm feeling lonely logo

With our help you can conquer your loneliness by taking better care of your inner self.

And we can conquer loneliness in New Zealand by better understanding and accepting each other.

So when you are ready…click here.

We look forward to hearing your view of the world!

Stats NZ (2014), “Disability Survey: 2013.” Download the data.