LONELINESS AND SOCIAL ISOLATION
In 2018 there was a national survey by Cigna which showed that nearly half of 20,000 US. citizens reported they were lonely and/or felt lonely. 40% of the participants also reported they sometimes feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they feel isolated.
In 2020 when the covid-19 pandemic hit, numbers increased because we were all mandated to socially distance and isolate ourselves so as not to contract the virus. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, found that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption. “There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” she said.
Being lonely has been experienced since the beginning of time – and we all deal with it from time to time (AmiRoksch, PhD, New York University). Reactive loneliness occurs during transitions in life such as what we are experiencing now, deaths, divorce, etc. When loneliness becomes chronic then it is painful. Chronic loneliness is most likely to set in when individuals either don’t have the emotional, mental or financial resources to get out and satisfy their social needs. They make lack a social circle that can provide these benefits through FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, etc.
When things become problematic and loneliness sets in, negative health consequences set in. Pew Research Center said more than 1 in 5 adults liked frequent loneliness to dissatisfaction with one’s family, social and community along with quality of life. We also know that loneliness can set in when people are surrounded by others – this is defined by people’s level of satisfaction with their connectedness or perceived social isolation.
Effects of loneliness and Isolation:
Risk of increase of strokes
Development of coronary heart disease
Combined behavioral, psychological and physical illness increase
Increase in risk of dementia
Gene expression is harmed – leukocytes inflamed and decreased involving antiviral responses
“Flight/fright” stress effecting immune system functioning
So what can we do? Practical interventions need to focus on helping ourselves and others to build on sense of purpose, belonging and connecting to individuals, groups and communities that are meaningful to them.
Florida State University College of Medicine; Steven Cole, MD, Professor of Medicine University of California, Los Angeles: Research on Aging; American Cancer Society; Kassandra Alcarez, PhD; American Journal of Epidemiology; Julene Johnson, PhD, University of California; University of Chicago