Psychology Today calls it a "modern plague", and confirms what we've long suspected -- Americans are getting more isolated from one another and social isolation is shortening our lives.
In 2009, researchers at Duke University reported that they'd observed a sharp decline in social connectedness (Facebook and Snap Chat aside) over the past 20 years. A full quarter of American say they don't have even one person in their lives they can confide in, and half say they confide only to those within their immediate family. People from all walks of life are affected, not only the elderly who are confined to their homes mainly because they no longer drive. According to the New York Times' Druv Khullar for The Upshot, just since the 1980s, the number of American adults who've said they're lonely, has doubled from 20% to 40%. It's an epidemic that's growing in the U.S., and it's having horrible consequences on our health -- physically, mentally and emotionally.
Mental and Emotional Consequences
It's not hard to see how there could be a connection between loneliness and mental health, and indeed there's a strong one. People who are isolated are more prone to depression, sleep problems and even addiction since many addicts become hooked on drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate to try to ease the emotional pain they're experiencing. And interestingly, people who aren't in great health -- especially those with depression or anxiety disorders -- are more likely to be lonely.
The newest research also suggests that social isolation doesn't only affect our mental states -- it affects our bodies as well. Those who are socially isolated tend to have
- insomnia and/or disrupted sleep patterns
- compromised immune systems
- more inflammation in the joints
- higher levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline
- a 29% higher risk for heart disease and a 32% higher risk for stroke
- a 50% greater chance of premature death than those who are socially active
Blame it on the digital age, blame it on the suburbs or your difficult childhood, but do something about it before it kills you. As Druv Khullar put it in the New York Times' magazine, The Upshot, "It's up to all of us -- doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities -- to maintain bonds where they're fading, and to create [bonds] where they haven't existed."
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