Why loneliness may become the next health epidemic

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A recent study from Cigna claims that “loneliness may be a greater public health hazard than obesity” and that millennial’s and Gen Z could be experiencing the worst from this. The survey of 20,000 adults over the age of 18 found that:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
  • Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

Yet with social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram helping to connect so many people, some may wonder why are individuals feeling disconnected and lonely?

One culprit could be social media itself.

While some believe that these platforms have helped to connect us, others believe that they have done just the opposite. Prior to the advent of social media, if people wanted to connect with others they would need to go out. But now people can stay in their homes or office and believe they are connected through their devices when in reality they are not connected at all.

Sam Miller, an online life coach , and counselor who works with mostly millennial’s stated this: “Many of my young clients say they have a lot of friends. But when I probe them deeper about how connected they really are with them, very few say they have meaningful connections.”

Because loneliness can lead to depression, heart disease, cognitive decline, and weaken a person’s immune system, health insurance companies are taking this as seriously as they do smoking.

After celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain committed suicide recently, suicide hotline calls rose by 65% putting health organizations and insurers on alert that these are not just isolated instances.

In fact, the study from Cigna was not the first to uncover this as the American Psychological Association also revealed the global scale of the problem. And in a study from AARP, “Approximately 42.6 million adults over the age of 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness.”

With this potential epidemic, are there any solutions?

Dr. Lynn Ponton suggests some of the following could help alleviate the onset of loneliness:

  1. Make friends

Having a community of good people around can help lift one’s spirits. The importance of connection and belonging is a vital need for all humans.

  1. Get a dog

The joy and unconditional love a dog brings to one’s life can help alleviate stress and anxiety.

  1. Volunteer

Making a genuine contribution that provides goodwill to your community is essential to feel connected.

  1. Take up a hobby

Having a hobby is a great way to connect with others who share similar interests.