This year, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a minister of loneliness. This may sound right out of Monty Python, but I assure you this is real. Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of multiple medical problems, including heart disease, stroke, and premature death.
There is a substantial amount of evidence showing the potential deleterious effects of social isolation on our health. The largest body of evidence comes from Julianne Holt-Lundstad and colleagues. (http://julianneholtlunstad.byu.edu) Holt-Lundstad and others reviewed tons of studies and found that social isolation, loneliness, and living alone are associated with risk of early death. In fact, this association is even stronger than obesity when predicating risk of premature death.
Rather than discuss all the evidence, I’ll point you to a couple of good videos to view. Learn about the seriousness of social isolation here:
- Susan Pinker’s TED talk (2017/16 minutes)
- The Aspen Institute’s Epidemic of Loneliness on YouTube (2017/48 minutes) Julianne Holt-Lundstad is one of the panelists.
What You Can Do to Combat Loneliness
Obviously, the cure for social isolation is to take steps to lessen the isolation. But telling someone that they need more friends is like hearing my mother tell me I need a hobby. If making friends was easy, surely we would.
In a recent Scientific American (January 2018), Francine Russo explored social isolation in her article, “The Toxic Well of Loneliness.” The solutions seemed a bit “off” to me. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is useful; so is meditation. Medication, Skype, and robotic pets were also mentioned. Personally, I hope England’s Minister of Loneliness comes up with better options.
Perhaps the solution is best found by connecting people such as myself who are not socially isolated with those who are. I am not suggesting knocking on the doors of strangers and inviting them over for a cup of tea. I can however, identify people I know and invite them over for a visit or call them regularly. Surely the world would be a better place if we watched out for each other a little more.