In the realm of health advocacy, our mission encompasses not only addressing immediate health concerns but also recognizing the profound impact of emotional experiences on overall wellbeing. Loneliness, a pervasive and complex emotional state, is one area of concern, a feeling that often intensifies during the holiday season and the New Year. In this expanded blog post, we delve deeper into the intricacies of loneliness, its various types, and its profound implications for mental and physical health. Additionally, we examine the interplay between loneliness, social isolation, and mental health, supported by a wealth of statistics and data.
Loneliness is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It manifests in various forms, each with distinct characteristics.
1. Existential Loneliness: This type of loneliness goes beyond social connections and relates to a fundamental sense of separateness from others and the wider world. It's a profound feeling that one exists in isolation, even in the midst of a crowd.
2. Emotional Loneliness: Emotional loneliness occurs when individuals lack close emotional relationships or deep connections with others. They may feel misunderstood or unsupported in their emotional needs, leading to profound emotional distress.
3. Social Loneliness: Social loneliness stems from a lack of a broader social network or community. People experiencing social loneliness may feel isolated from friends, family, or social groups, resulting in a sense of detachment from the world around them.
4. Transient Loneliness: Some individuals experience loneliness intermittently, with feelings that come and go. Transient loneliness may be triggered by life events or changing circumstances.
5. Situational Loneliness: This type of loneliness is context-specific, occurring at particular times or in certain situations. It might be experienced on Sundays or, significantly, during the holiday season, like Christmas and New Year's.
6. Chronic Loneliness: Chronic loneliness represents an enduring emotional state where individuals feel lonely all or most of the time, irrespective of circumstances.
It's important to differentiate between loneliness and social isolation. Loneliness is a subjective emotional experience, while social isolation is an objective state characterized by a lack of social contact. Social isolation relates to the frequency and level of one's social interactions, with those experiencing it having few social relationships and/or infrequent social contact.
Importantly, feeling lonely is not always synonymous with being physically alone. Some people can spend substantial time in solitude yet feel content, while others might be surrounded by others but experience a profound sense of disconnection.
While loneliness itself is not in and of itself a mental health disorder, it is closely intertwined with mental health. Loneliness and poor mental health are interconnected, with each exacerbating the other. Social connectedness, on the other hand, is associated with better mental health, and social isolation is frequently associated with poor mental health.
Loneliness can both lead to and result from poor mental health. Individuals with mental health conditions, especially those living with limiting mental health conditions, may be more susceptible to loneliness. Conversely, loneliness can negatively impact mental health, leading to increased feelings of isolation, sadness, and disconnection.
Prolonged or intense experiences of loneliness can have far-reaching consequences on health and well-being. Here are some striking statistics and data highlighting these impacts:
1. Loneliness increases the risk of early mortality by 26%.
2. It puts people at greater risk of developing mental health conditions, including depression.
3. Chronic loneliness is associated with mental distress in 60% of cases, compared to 15% among those not chronically lonely.
4. For young people, loneliness often leads to a loss of confidence.
5. Loneliness is linked to elevated blood pressure and acute stress responses.
6. It impairs sleep quality, affecting both young adults and the general population.
7. Loneliness in early adolescence is associated with lower educational attainment.
8. It can hinder career progression and reduce work performance.
Vivek Murthy, MD, the United States’ Surgeon General, has put extensive effort into exploring the current status of loneliness in the United States and its impact on our health. Both before and especially since the COVID pandemic, his outreach efforts led him to believe that loneliness has reached crisis levels and has been largely ignored by our healthcare and public health system. As a problem, it crosses all age groups, races, and ethnicities. In fact, he wrote an excellent book on the subject called Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World (Murthy, 2020). Beyond that, the Surgeon General's Advisory for the United States has provided a comprehensive framework to address the issue of loneliness and advance social connection. This framework is built on six foundational pillars:
1. Strengthen Social Infrastructure: Communities must design environments that promote connection, establish and scale community connection programs, and invest in institutions that bring people together.
2. Enact Pro-Connection Public Policies: Governments at various levels can play a vital role in supporting and enabling more connection among communities and families through policies such as accessible public transportation and paid family leave.
3. Mobilize the Health Sector: Healthcare providers are well-positioned to assess patients for risk of loneliness and intervene, as loneliness and isolation are risk factors for several major health conditions.
4. Reform Digital Environments: Our relationship with technology must be critically evaluated to ensure that digital interactions do not detract from meaningful and healing connections with others.
5. Deepen Our Knowledge: A robust research agenda is needed to further our understanding of the causes and consequences of social disconnection, populations at risk, and the effectiveness of efforts to boost connection.
6. Cultivate a Culture of Connection: The norms and culture of how we engage with one another significantly influence the relationships we have in our lives. A culture of connection is essential to the success of the other pillars.
Loneliness, a multifaceted emotional experience, extends beyond mere solitude. It is deeply interconnected with mental health, social isolation, and overall well-being. As health advocates, it is vital that we recognize and address the profound impact of loneliness, especially during the holiday season and the New Year. By understanding the different types of loneliness, acknowledging the link between loneliness and mental health, and recognizing the substantial consequences of prolonged loneliness, we can work collectively to combat this pervasive issue and foster a society that values and prioritizes social connection and emotional well-being, guided by the comprehensive framework provided by the Surgeon General's Advisory.
In December, while many celebrate the holidays, others are especially prone to feelings of loneliness exacerbated by feelings of not belonging or perhaps of loss. I encourage you to reach out to others and establish a connection, whether you are the one who may feel lonely or perhaps may know someone who does. A little human connection goes a long way, especially during this season when the days feel shorter, and the sunlight is a precious resource.
Sending you joy and feelings of greater humanity and care for others this holiday season!
Disclaimer: The contents of HealthACR Insights are intended to provide information we hope you find interesting, timely and useful. We carefully research the topics using reliable, highly regarded sources. Citations are provided. We in no way intend to offer clinical advice that you should use to make treatment decisions. Please consult appropriate professionals. HealthACR, LLC is available to help you identify potential options and find providers to meet your needs.