The Current Loneliness Epidemic and Its Real Health Consequences
Loneliness has become a growing concern in recent years, with many referring to it as an epidemic. In this blog, we will explore the negative health consequences of loneliness, the possible reasons behind the increase in loneliness, and the interventions that can help combat it.
The Loneliness Epidemic
Loneliness is a subjective feeling of social isolation and disconnection, which can be experienced by people of all ages and backgrounds. According to a 2020 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than one in five adults in the United States (22%) reported feeling lonely or isolated most or all of the time, and over half (56%) reported feeling lonely or isolated some of the time. These numbers have been increasing steadily over the past decade, leading many to refer to it as a loneliness epidemic. Even the U.S. Surgeon General has warned us about the loneliness epidemic.
Negative Health Consequences
Loneliness has been linked to a range of negative health consequences, including mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicide, and physical health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. A review of 70 studies found that lonely individuals had a 26% increased likelihood of dying prematurely, compared to those who were not lonely.
Possible Reasons for the Increase in Loneliness
There are many possible reasons for the increase in loneliness. One of the most significant factors is social media and the internet. While these platforms can help people connect with others, they can also lead to social isolation and feelings of inadequacy. Other factors include changes in family structure, such as an increase in single-parent households and a decrease in extended families, as well as an increase in urbanization, which can lead to a sense of disconnection from one’s community.
Interventions that can Help
There are several interventions that can help combat loneliness. These include:
- Building social connections: This can be done by joining clubs or groups that share similar interests, volunteering, or reaching out to friends and family.
- Engaging in mindfulness practices: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or yoga, can help individuals become more aware of their emotions and thoughts, leading to greater self-awareness and a greater sense of connection with others.
- Seeking professional help: For those experiencing severe loneliness, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor may be necessary.
- Addressing societal factors: Addressing societal factors, such as income inequality and the lack of affordable housing, can also help combat loneliness.
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- Cacioppo, J. T., & Patrick, W. (2008). Loneliness: Human nature and the need for social connection. W. W. Norton & Company.
- Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: A meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227-237.
- Kaiser Family Foundation. (2020). KFF Health Tracking Poll – Late April 2020: Coronavirus, Social Distancing, and Contact Tracing. Retrieved from https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/report/kff-health-tracking-poll-late-april-2020/.
- Leigh-Hunt, N., Bagguley, D., Bash, K., Turner, V., Turnbull, S., Valtorta, N., & Caan, W. (2017). An overview of systematic reviews on the public health consequences of social isolation and loneliness. Public Health, 152, 157-171.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care