The “Loneliness Epidemic” is pervasive in the United States, with an estimated 42.6 million people over the age of 45 affected by chronic loneliness. According to the American Psychological Association, loneliness should be considered a public health threat—be sure to know the signs that loneliness is harming your health. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology from BYU, says the epidemic has been steadily increasing over time.
Holt-Lunstad presented two major analyses about the negative health side effects of loneliness at the American Psychological Association and found that, in some cases, someone who is socially connected is 50 percent less likely to have an early death than someone who suffers from the loneliness epidemic. The analyses looked at 148 different studies that included over 300,000 total participants.
“Trends suggest that Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness. With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase,” said Hold-Lunstad. These little things you can do to connect with others are good first steps to combatting loneliness.
But this loneliness epidemic isn’t confined to someone’s mental or emotional health. Former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy spoke to The Washington Post about how loneliness manifests itself when it comes to your physical well-being.
“When you look at the data, what’s really interesting is loneliness has been found to be associated with a reduction of lifespan,” Dr. Murpy said to The Washington Post. “The reduction in lifespan [for loneliness] is similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s greater than the impact on lifespan of obesity. “
Holt-Lunstad and Murthy both have their own suggestions for addressing the issue. Holt-Lunstad believes that medically, doctors should screen for social isolation, while educationally, school children should be given lessons on social skills. Murthy believes that loneliness stems from a disconnect at the workplace, where people need to “learn about each other at a deeper personal level,” in order to feel more like an individual with a family and passions outside of work, and less like a nametag.
Loneliness is an incredibly complex issue—if you need help to stop feeling lonely, be sure to try one of these science-backed tips for battling loneliness.