The Loneliness Epidemic
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness is a feeling – it’s a negative emotion we have when the quality or quantity of our relationships don’t meet our expectations. We all experience loneliness because all humans have a natural hunger for connecting with others.
Being alone does not mean we are lonely, and being surround by people does not mean we are spared from loneliness either. Loneliness is a self-evaluation of our social connections, and it looks and feel different for everyone. For some, it can be hard to notice or detect; for others, it can be hard to ignore.
Because loneliness is based off perception, it’s subjective and can be difficult to quantify. However, there are sophisticated self-report surveys, one notably designed by researchers at UCLA, that help provide objective measures.
Biological Effects of Loneliness
Though loneliness is a temporary emotion, it can often develop into a medical illness. As a species, we’ve adapted to depend upon interpersonal connections as an essential component of human life. Chronic loneliness, or an extended sense of detachment from others, creates critical physiological and psychological consequences on our health.
As a condition, loneliness is an illness that is invisible to others and preys upon an individual’s psyche. Because of the stigma associated with loneliness, it isn’t openly discussed and leaves those struggling with prolonged loneliness to manage it by themselves – which is an impossible feat. Not knowing that these feelings are universally shared, people feel ashamed of their feelings and turn inwards to try and navigate their negative emotions – shifting thinking to self-blame and devaluation of self worth. This distorted view of reality embeds our emotions with fear and heightens levels of anxiety and stress. This perpetuates a downward spiral of thinking, also known as maladaptive social cognition.
Profound Influence on Mortality & Increases Risk of Early Death
Loneliness and lack of social connection can increase the risk of early death by 30% while isolation can increase risk for early mortality by 29%. The health risks of loneliness are comparable to obesity and the dangers of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
About the Epidemic
Today, our society is experiencing loneliness at unprecedented rates. Even before the pandemic, 3 in 5 Americans in 2020 reported feelings of loneliness (Cigna). Now, these numbers are likely far higher.
No one is immune to loneliness, but populations like our Aging loved ones, college students on Campus, employees in the Workplace, and neighbors across Communities are particularly vulnerable.
How We Combat Loneliness
Through Project UnLonely, we mobile organizations to raise public awareness of loneliness and identify solutions for community improvement.
Being Alone Can Be Beneficial
Over time, we’ve become less and less comfortable with being alone. But being alone does not mean you are lonely, and it’s important we understand the distinction between loneliness and solitude.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be or being by yourself. In fact, personal time is fundamental to individual growth and wellbeing. Solitude is the state of being at peace with oneself and being content alone. Where loneliness is a negative experience based off external relationship, “loneliness” is a positive internal state of being connected with oneself as an individual. It offers us a chance to reflect and connect more deeply with ourselves, and by giving clarity to ourselves and our surrounding, it actually nourishes and restores us.
The arts are not only a unifying force for communities, but they offer a path for personal exploration, reflection, and solace. Creativity can be a form of self-care and incorporated into a routine of personal health management.
Our website provides educational health and wellness resources, but it can’t substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. It’s okay to ask for help, and if you are in a crisis, please reach out to someone immediately. Call 911 in an emergency, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, or text MHA to 741741. You can find additional resources below: