Loneliness as a public health concern

“Solitude expresses the value of being alone, while loneliness expresses the pain of being alone.”-Tillich 1959

There are many factors that can affect why somebody gets the feeling of being lonely. Sometimes it could just be due to a slow week of socializing, other times it might be due to rejection or lack of a significant other. Somebody could be in a crowded room full of people and still feel lonely. Everyone feels lonely at some point or another but when loneliness turns into continuous social isolation, there is a need for concern.

In a 2010 survey published by AARP, slightly more than one out of three adults who are aged 45 and over reported being chronically lonely. Loneliness was also a significant predictor of poor health; those surveyed who rated their health as “excellent” were more than half as likely to be lonely than those who rated their health as “poor,” 25 percent versus 55 percent, respectively. (AARP Research, 2010)

The effects of chronic loneliness or social isolation can affect somebody’s life in physical, mental and emotional capacities. Human beings are social creatures that are meant to survive as a part of a greater whole. The social aspect of a person’s life may seem somewhat more trivial to the more introverted personality types but this does not diminish the human need for interaction. When a person is lonely, it’s incredibly important to be honest with oneself about such feelings, as these are often warning signs of larger problems to come. Chronic feelings of loneliness can cause heart conditions, as well as depression.

The pain of loneliness is when social isolation is defeating a person’s well-being. If solitude is enhancing a person’s well-being for a period of time, or serving a positive purpose, then it could be a healthy act. Being alone becomes unhealthy when it’s no longer a means to an end that will positively serve the individual and instead makes them feel lonely. It’s important to have a balance of social time with others and time to oneself. This balance will help strengthen the value of both scenarios.

The cost of isolation

Life can become very boring, stagnant and dangerous for a human being without social ties. A study of widowhood was done between people with many social ties and people without social ties, in Alameda County, California. Over a period of nine years, the study revealed that people who had fewer social and community ties were significantly more likely to have died. The mortality rate for the men with the fewest ties was 2.3 times more than it was for the men with the most ties, while the mortality rate for the women with the fewest ties was 2.8 times more than it was for the women with the most ties. (Berkman; Syme 1979)

It’s very important to be able to gauge one’s feelings. A great way to do this is through journaling. When isolation, or loneliness occurs, it can help to write down some potential reasons why one might be feeling that way and then match those reasons with a plan of action of how to change the situation. If loneliness is becoming a hindrance and negatively affecting the way a person lives – then getting help or taking the actions necessary to change the situation is extremely important.

Loneliness can have a multitude of effects of an individual, including include physiological and psychological effects. Physiologically being lonely can cause hypertension, dementia, paranoia and an increase in self-preservation. In addition, psychological effects of loneliness include a state of being afraid, feeling out of control, feeling disconnected, feeling defenseless and mental health issues such as depression or lowered self-esteem.

How to become less lonely and isolated

Considering the negative effects of loneliness it is important to take steps to decrease social isolation. Taking good care of physical, mental and emotional health will help someone feel more comfortable engaging with other people. There are various places where one can start to build friendships with others such as school, church, work, coffee shops and parks where individuals can meet people and strike up a conversation. Individuals generally feel more comfortable engaging with others that are similar to them so looking into joining groups centered around common interests such as knitting, reading or a sport may be helpful as well. However, there are many wonderful common interests among people that are different as well so individuals should make sure they are not limiting themselves.

If loneliness has become a hindrance, or has resulted in poor decision making or a mental health issue, it’s important to ask for help. Actions control thoughts and when a person is willing to create a different reality through a different set of actions, thoughts and feelings will change for the better. Therapists are a valuable tool in helping individuals set goals and find solutions to problems such as chronic loneliness and any issues caused by such social isolation. To find out more about how to get help for chronic loneliness or the issues it may cause you can contact the Mental Health Helpline today at 855-653-8178 to speak with a specialist.