Health Effects of Loneliness

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – Loneliness is becoming a problem. In fact, the effects of loneliness on your physical and mental health are staggering.

Researchers at Brigham Young University are trying to understand what some are calling the “loneliness epidemic.”

 “Just as loneliness can affect any of us, any of us can help to tackle this problem,” said United Kingdom Prime Minster Theresa May.

Just last week, May appointed a Government Minster of Loneliness. Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently told The Boston Globe, “If we are going to address loneliness as a country, we actually need all sectors to address what they can do.”     

 “There's also evidence that there's been a decrease in the size of people's social network, and that our networks are less diverse, and that our networks are less likely to include family,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience at BYU.

Dr. Holt Holt-Lunstad and Dr. Tim Smith from BYU have been researching the links between social relationships and our physical health.

Dr. Holt-Lunstad says there is an important difference between social isolation and loneliness.

“Social isolation is thought of as being more objective and refers to lacking relationships or infrequent contact. Loneliness is thought to be more subjective, it's the perception of isolation. While they can go hand in hand, they don't always,” said Dr. Holt-Lunstad.

For example, Dr. Holt-Lunstad says some people who spend most their time alone don’t feel lonely and some people through surrounded by many do.

 “Although they are distinct, both are associated with increased risk, and they are both are equivalently associated with increased risk for premature mortality,” said Dr. Holt-Lunstad.

Research shows loneliness can have the same effect as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day or…

“As predictive of death as factors like alcoholism,” said Dr. Smith.

Between 20 and 43 percent of adults in the United States over age 60 experience frequent or intense loneliness. The average size of social networks has decreased by one third since 1985.

Therefore, this researching duo along with the help of a team of dedicated students is now researching the effectiveness of preventative measures on loneliness.

 “The number one overlooked finding that we've come across, is that family is the source to long term physical survival,” said Dr. Smith.

Help such as housing college students and the elderly together or having in-home nurse that have benefited both parties.

“There has also been research using the internet connections like Facebook and so technology can be used to augment social relationships when it doesn't occur naturally,” said Dr. Smith.

The more and the better your social relationships are the longer you may live, but experts say the epidemic of loneliness need to be acknowledged.

 “Just as we need to take time in our busy schedules to exercise and be active, we also need to be socially active,” said Dr. Holt-Lunstad.

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