The world may be smaller and more connected than it was several decades ago, but research shows that a large part of the population is very lonely. It is considered that there is an “epidemic of loneliness”, and the figures support this name. According to a Crédoc survey for the Fondation de France in 2016, 5 million people over the age of 15, one in ten French people, meet and spend time only very rarely with relatives. In the United States more than 42 million over 45 years suffer from chronic loneliness.
According to new research, loneliness does not only make people sad, it could also be harmful to one’s health. New statistics indicate that the alarming number of those who are in social isolation is a threat to public health, it might be even more dangerous than obesity. And the problem of loneliness may be aggravated by decreasing numbers of children per household, declining marriage and an aging population.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, says, “Being socially connected to others is widely viewed as a basic human need, essential for well-being and survival. Extreme examples show that infants in care who lack human contact do not succeed and often die, and indeed, social isolation or isolation has been used as a form of punishment … Yet, an increasing share of the American population now suffers regular isolation.
This loneliness study is the largest to date and was presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. The researchers in this study used data from two previous meta-analyzes. A total of 218 studies, using data collected from nearly 4 million people in the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia, were used. Using the data from the studies, the researchers showed that social isolation, loneliness or just living alone presented a risk of early death. The data also argued that the social relationship is linked to a 50% reduced risk of premature death.
It is important to note that chronic loneliness is very different from feeling lonely. Many previous studies have shown a link between loneliness and physical health problems. People with chronic loneliness can cope with dementia, cardiovascular problems and a weakened immune system. One of the major problems is fragmented sleep caused by social isolation. Sleeping less and at odd hours can result in a host of health problems, increased blood pressure, and high heart rate. The side effects of isolation need to be taken seriously.
“There is strong evidence that social isolation and loneliness dramatically increase the risk of premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” Holt-Lunstad said.
Researchers seek to shed light on what they think is a problem that is neglected. They hope the results will allow them to be addressed at a public health level. The goal would be to add public screenings for loneliness to the medical assessment protocol, and then offer resources to help those in need.
“With an increasingly aging population, the effect on public health is only expected to increase. Indeed, many nations around the world now report that we are facing an “epidemic of loneliness”. Our current challenge is to do something about it. “