Loneliness and Health: We Get By With A Little Help From Our Friends

The surgeon general of the United States released a report yesterday, May 2nd 2023, on the “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” highlighting the profound, deleterious effects loneliness can have on health and longevity. The loneliness associated health risks are as impactful as those experienced from obesity and smoking approximately fifteen cigarettes a day.  For people of all ages, social isolation—which is defined as lack of social contacts and few people to interact with daily—and loneliness, are linked to many of the prevalent lifestyle related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and cognitive decline/dementia. The mental health challenges that are exacerbated by loneliness include depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, and self-harm.  The data suggest that one out of two Americans of all ages experience loneliness, with younger people experiencing changes in immune function and sleep patterns, and older people experiencing insomnia and heightened physical pain.

The biopsychosocial-spiritual model for health promotion identifies social well-being as a critical component for optimizing health. Connections with others are so integral to our health, that limited to no social connection is correlated with an increased mortality rate of 30%. As dramatic as this problem clearly is, the actions and lifestyle adjustments that may reduce or remedy these issues can be identified in and around our lives, and do not have to be that complicated.  We are clearly built for community and connection; therefore, we need to seize opportunities within our world and sphere of influence that might regularly increase our facetime/touchpoints/exchanges of kindness, connecting us with others. We can take a look at our established social interactions and endeavor to “dose” ourselves with one additional social touch point on a regular basis. The good news is, upon writing this, the world population is reportedly 8,033,222,336—we have plenty of people to choose from and adding a few will improve our lives and health.

Some ideas to find a connection:

Walking and hiking groups within your community.

Litter pick up teams that meet together to clean up streets and neighborhoods.

Local animal shelter volunteers to walk dogs and aid in the care of animals.

Faith based groups and their many activities.

Inclusive after-school activities for children and adolescents.

Recreational sport activities for all ages.

Establish a club for gardening, reading, painting, crafting, cooking, instrument playing, knitting, game playing etc. in your community.

Join parenting groups, foster parent groups, grandparenting groups, groups for seniors, support groups of any kind. 

Volunteer anywhere that there is a need for which you have a passion or concern.