Social isolation is something that quite a lot of people enjoy – because, once you get a taste of it, it is hard to give up. There’s nothing like spending time in solitude without the need to deal with other people and their drama.

This addiction is also the reason why researchers are worried that loneliness will overtake obesity to become the most important public health crisis affecting humanity.

The loneliness epidemic

The reality has hit many nations so hard that they are calling this crisis a ‘loneliness epidemic’. This surprising revelation comes from a long-term research study presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, by Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University in Utah.

Two large meta-analyses, including 148 studies covering 300,000 people; and 70 studies covering 3.4 million people, were combined for the purpose of this research. These studies focused on the effects of social connectedness to family or community and the health outcomes of different types of people.

The research findings concluded that people living alone or affected by loneliness, social isolation are 50% more likely to die a premature death than those with strong social relationships.

The negative health implications of loneliness and social isolation were also discussed, which include the risk of getting mental health problems and suffering from cardiovascular disease.

Speaking on the findings of her research, Julianne commented, “Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need. It is crucial to both well-being and survival.”

This research isn’t the only study that Julianne has completed about the health effects of loneliness. In 2015, she published a ground-breaking study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science that delved into the health effects of loneliness.

That study helped changed the myths surrounding loneliness, including its conditions and rumoured causes. It was discovered then, that those going through loneliness had up to 32% risk of premature death.

The actual causes and definitions of loneliness and social isolation were extremely challenging to figure out for this research due to the different individualistic expressions that were conveyed in this field. The results were inaccurate even when a checklist approach was used to pinpoint the issues.

Should social connectedness be on a doctor’s health check-up list?

Despite that, it doesn’t change the fact that loneliness is increasing and that its public health implications are serious. In a 2016-survey conducted by the Australian crisis help organisation Lifeline – it was reported that even people who live with their partner or have children have found themselves feeling lonely.

Another research concluded that more people from traditionally family-orientated homes have felt long stretches of loneliness than people from homes that promote individualism and independence as desirable virtues.

In spite of the different results that are concluded from the health implications of loneliness’ studies, most of them have accepted that there’s a bigger risk of isolation as a person gets older.

Speaking on this, Julianne commented that the situation is about to get worst since older people are a major part of the population. It has been reported that in the US, India and the UK, most of its older populations are living alone.

This research suggested that in order to avoid an increasing population with acute loneliness, children should go through social skills training in school. It has also been recommended that social connectedness should be on a doctor’s health checkup list while inspecting their patients.

Michelle Lim from Swinburne University of Technology explained, “Another promising way to tackle loneliness is to improve the quality of our relationships, specifically by building intimacy with those around us.”

“Using a positive psychology approach that focuses on increasing positive emotions within relationships or increasing social behaviours may encourage deeper and more meaningful connections with others.” MIMS

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