Loneliness can kill you! You’re more likely to die from loneliness than from obesity or smoking, according to a new research by Brigham Young University (BYU). According to the study, your risk of premature death may be increased by up to 50% if you are lonely and socially isolated.
Past studies have linked loneliness and social isolation with poor health. Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, there are notable differences between loneliness and social isolation. Social isolation occurs when a person lacks contact with other people, while feeling of loneliness occurs when someone is emotionally disconnected from others. A person can be lonely even if he or she is in the presence of others.
“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need – crucial to both well-being and survival,” says lead author Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at BYU.
“Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment.”
For their study, Prof. Prof. Holt-Lunstad and colleagues wanted to find out how loneliness and social isolation may impact the risk of early death.
The team conducted 2 meta-analyses of studies that examined the connection between social isolation, loneliness, and mortality.
In the first meta-analysis, 148 studies were conducted on more than 300,000 adults and the second one involved 3.4 million adults who took part in 70 studies.
According to the researchers lonely people may be at higher risk of poor sleep quality.
The first meta-analysis data found that higher social connection meant a 50% reduction in the risk of early death.
The data from the second meta-analysis found that social isolation, being lonely, and living alone were all linked with an elevated risk of early death.
What’s more surprising is that the team found that the risk of early death linked to social isolation, loneliness, and living alone was same or greater than the early death risk connected with obesity and other health conditions.
Prof. Holt-Lunstad says:
“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.”
She notes that the findings are especially concerning since the aging population is increasing.
“Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic,’” she adds. “The challenge we face now is what can be done about it.”
To help overcome the epidemic of loneliness, Prof. Holt-Lunstad suggests putting more resources into confronting loneliness among individuals and as a society.
She points to the need of putting more focus on social skills training for schoolchildren, and making doctors integrate social connectedness in medical screening.
She argues one way to handle the problem is to persuade people to prepare for retirement not just in a financial way, but also in a social way as well, and increase spending locally on shared social spaces including community gardens and recreation centers.
The findings were presented at the 125th annual convention of the American Psychological Association.
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