Loneliness: Is it a Silent Crisis?
Feeling lonely? Considering all the connections through technology that we have at our fingertips, you may not realize you are part of a fast-growing population experiencing the same. Loneliness is on the rise, being touted a silent crisis. (Murthy, 2017) Loneliness has been steadily increasing, doubling since the 80’s with half the population reporting feeling lonely.
Cigna and Ipsos, a market research firm, confirms this. They interviewed 20,000 Americans, 18 years and older. This research showed that 46% felt alone sometimes or always, 47% felt left out, 27% rarely or never felt as though there were people who really understood them,43% felt that their relationships were not meaningful and felt isolated from others, 20% rarely or never felt close to people, 18% didn’t feel like there were people they could talk to and only 53% reported having meaningful in-person social interactions such as an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family on a daily basis. It may surprise you that the loneliest generation of adults was Generation Z, ages 18 -22 years old. People who lived with other people were less likely to be lonely; however, this was not the case for single parents who had higher reports of feeling lonely. (Lee, 2018)
This same study showed no difference in loneliness rates between heavy social media users and others. It is more about our personal connections; research is showing that this has deteriorated. People feel invisible and crave to be known authentically. Thousands of people have lots of Facebook friends, but have very few people who really know them. (Lee, 2018)
In another study exploring the social media patterns of 1781 adults, data found that individuals who logged in for half an hour per day felt less lonely compared to individuals who logged on for more than two hours daily. Shainna, 2018) Perhaps it is about quality of time that matters.
Former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy wrote in a Harvard business review that loneliness is a growing health epidemic. Loneliness impacts health. It is associated with a reduced lifespan (as severe as what you see with someone smoking 15 cigarettes a day), dementia, depression, anxiety and cardiovascular disease. The rate of morality from loneliness is greater than that of obesity. (Murthy, 2017)
To understand how this becomes a health issue, you need to realize that humans are social beings. We need people. Thousands of years ago, being connected to people meant you were more likely to have a stable food supply and to be protected from predators. When you are disconnected, it puts you in a stressed state, fight or flight, letting the body know to prepare for environmental threats. Stress triggers a cascade of hormones and body responses to manage the threat. The body doesn’t necessarily discern an environmental threat from an internal threat. Being chronically aroused in a stress reaction can cause serious wear and tear on the body, ultimately impacting health and well-being. (Murthy, 2017)
If you are feeling lonely – recognize you are not the only one. Admitting to loneliness can be hard and even shameful. Remember being lonely doesn’t mean there is something fundamentally wrong with you or that you are not worthy of having friendships. The data about loneliness can be helpful for us to realize that we are ultimately interdependent people and we need each other. But also, recognizing that you are lonely is a sign that something needs to change as it affects both your physical and mental well-being. Some steps towards remedying this is to make sure you get enough sleep and have regular physical activity. Providing dedicated time and structure to give yourself opportunity to really get to know another person can open some doors. This might mean being more open to connections at work or with family members or in areas in your life where you are with people. You may decide you could use some support and guidance in this process, in which case you might consider starting therapy to take steps to increase your connections and your sense of well-being.
Lee, B. L. (2018, May 1).Retrieved from www.Forbes.com: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2018/05/01/here-is-more-evidence-that-americans-are-lonely-and-what-should-be-done/#3dd011a33194
Murthy, V. M. (2017, Oct 19). Former surgeon general on how loneliness could reduce lifespan. (CBS, Interviewer)
Shainna, A. P. (2018, Jul 12). What you need to know about the loneliness epidemic. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201807/what-you-need-know-about-the-loneliness-epidemicTags: loneliness, widespread loneliness
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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