The Loneliness Epidemic


Ashley Zhao, Staff Writer

Do you ever want to talk to someone, but have no one to call? Well, you’re not alone. According to a 2018 survey from the weekly magazine The Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), more than 2 in 10 adults in the U.S. and the United Kingdom reported that they often or always feel lonely, lack companionship, or feel left out and isolated. Figures like these have become an alarming threat that has been stunting our lives and outright killing us and is an issue that we’re going to hear more about in the years to come if something is not done.
Not an epidemic just in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, loneliness has been posing an issue in other places around the world as well. In Japan, there are more than half a million people under the age of 40 who haven’t left their house or interacted with anyone for at least six months. In Canada, the percentage of solo households is now 28%. Across the European Union, it’s 34%.
For a long time, scientists have known that loneliness is emotionally harmful, and can result in psychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and even hallucinatory delirium. But only recently have they recognized how destructive the emotion is to the body. In 2015, researchers at UCLA discovered that social isolation triggers cellular changes that result in chronic inflammation, predisposing those who are lonely to threatening physical conditions like heart disease, stroke, metastatic cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. One analysis conducted in 2015, which collected data from 70 studies observing 3.4 million people over a period of 7 years, found that lonely individuals had a 26% higher risk of dying. If they lived alone, this figure rose to 32%.
However, the good news is that friendships reduce the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases, as well as speeding up the recovery of those who fall ill. Furthermore, “simply reaching out to lonely people can jump-start the process of getting them to engage with neighbors and peers,” explained CareMore Health officer Robin Caruso. Her “Togetherness” initiative aims to fight against “an epidemic of loneliness” among seniors, who are especially prone to the effects of loneliness, by providing weekly phone calls, home visits, and community programs.
If you’re looking for ways to combat loneliness yourself, here are a few things that you can do. Most of the time, loneliness comes as a result of poor social skills, which can be improved by engaging in conversations, speaking on the phone, giving out compliments, growing comfortable with periods of silence, and communicating positively in non-verbal ways. Many lonely people are victims of changing circumstances, and in that case, there are approaches that offer professional help and counseling to aid them. Creating more opportunities for social interaction is another beneficial strategy, as it gives lonely people a chance to meet others through organized activities.
As time goes on, the epidemic of loneliness will start to pose a greater threat if something is not done to prevent its harmful physical and mental effects. To prevent such serious consequences from happening to you or your loved ones, don’t be afraid to reach out to others for company simply just by handing out a compliment or striking up a polite conversation.

Graphic Courtesy of NEWSCIENTIST.COM