Can People Really Die from Loneliness?

Last month, at the125the annual convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) in Washington DC the convention presented and warned of the next epidemic to hit humanity; loneliness.  

Culling data from studies that encompass over 4 million people, researchers point out some statistics that are cause for concern. They said that social isolation or loneliness increases risk of early death by over 50%.

Loneliness which is defined as emotional detachment can happen to someone who is even surrounded by a lively and large family. Loneliness can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Social isolation in which someone is disconnected from society can cause slower recovery from various illnesses including cancer. Both loneliness and social isolation cause depression and heart attacks at a young age.

Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University who led the study explains: “Being connected to others is considered something necessary for people whether to flourish or just survive. The extreme example that proves this most is the fact that babies that grow up without human touch don’t develop like others in their age group. In some cases they don’t live long either. Yet a growing part of the population regularly experiences isolation.”

“People are concerned about situations like obesity, smoking and poor nutrition that are known causes of increased risk of death, but they tend to disregard loneliness. But we should understand this is a real epidemic. The challenge we are up against forces us to understand what we want to do against this epidemic.”

Dr. Holt-Lunstad recommends that doctors ask patients about their social connectedness in medical examinations and social connectedness should be a national priority. This should start from social skill education in schools all the way to urban and community planning where community centers and gardens should be planned to increase social interaction. Retirement planning should include the social aspect as well as financial since people who leave their workplace may find themselves isolated. 

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