If you have ever felt lonely, know that you are not alone. We live in an era where we are more connected with one another than ever yet the national rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Loneliness can be defined as “subjective distress” which does not always mean not having friends. Loneliness does not discriminate — people of all ages, regardless of geographical location or background, can feel lonely at some point in their lives.
A common misconception is that elderly individuals are the lonely ones within our society but it is not often acknowledged that loneliness can affect people of all ages. Research shows the risk of loneliness peaks in three stages of life: late 20s, mid 50s, and late 80s. Interestingly, new findings show Generation Z (ages 18 to 22) report being the loneliest generation of them. Changes in modern society such as the growing reliance on online interaction in place of face-to-face interactions and often living far away from our family and friends makes us feel more isolated, leading us to create weaker social connections.
A former US surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, reports that the health consequences of loneliness is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day with an increased mortality risk of 26 percent. Loneliness can result in further health problems such as diminished immunity, hypertension, cognitive decline, increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
If the impact of social isolation has the potential to do as much harm as chronic smoking, we should be doing more to prevent it. The loneliness epidemic is a public health crisis that needs to be addressed. Health professionals are not taught how to approach emotional well-being and often times do not screen patients for loneliness. Public health professionals are in a unique position to educate the public on risks, raise awareness and reduce the stigma against being lonely. Experts say that organizing community events that bring people together is imperative to combating loneliness.
The bottom line is loneliness is bad for our health. We are social beings that need to feel connected to one another and we all crave a sense of belonging.
Implementing organized public campaigns and events with the intention of involving lonely members of society would improve the overall well-being of the community as a whole, as well as taking preventative measures in the healthcare setting to improve the health of the socially deprived.