In the United States, as well as other parts of the world the number of individuals who feel they are alone and left out is reaching staggering numbers. Loneliness touches the lives of teenagers to older adults. A recent study found as much as 47% of Americans frequently find themselves feeling alone. In countries like Japan, the estimated is that half a million individuals shut themselves away for months at a time. In the United Kingdom, chronic and profound feelings of loneliness are experienced by 4 out of ten people. The United Kingdom recognizing the seriousness of this epidemic created a new Cabinet position called the “Minister for Loneliness.”
Loneliness is as a profound social issue. Hatred, violence is often are tied to those individuals who feel alone, angry and not part of society. Being disconnected leads to failures in empathy. Rather than calling them lone wolves, we might want to address the root of the problem by calling them lonely wolves. If we assist them in becoming part of the right pack, there are less likely to harm others.
One frightening aspect of loneliness is the health consequences that arise from the physiological response to this type of stress. We are wired to connect. Loneliness is known to shorten life by upwards of 15 years. Hence it has the equivalent impact life expectancy as obesity and the smoking of as much as 15 cigarettes per day. We are also finding associations between cancer mortality risk and loneliness. Loneliness influences the response physiologically to both surgery and medication.
The medical link is becoming well-established. These stress hormones triggered by loneliness may lead to high blood pressure, decreased resistance to infection while increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Being isolated also accelerates both functional and cognitive decline, seen in those struggling with Alzheimer’s. Loneliness contributes to what we also refer to the deaths of despair including those from alcohol use, opioids, and suicide. It is truly ironic that in today’s hyper-connected social media world, that so many are lonely in this digital landscape.
As a psychologist trying to prevent violence, forms of harassment, the goals need to be the fostering of healthy connections, so we are less alone in our communities.
The Bridg-it approach aims to foster healthy connections. By design, Shout Outs and other forms of recognition supported by Bridg-It connect others with peer and adult respect, compassion, and other forms of positive actions. Glenn Lipson, Ph.D.