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Solitary confinement

Loneliness and social isolation can hurt, mentally and physically

Are you lonesome tonight? If so, it may be dangerous to your health. 

The U.S. Surgeon General recently released a warning that loneliness and social isolation are on the rise nationwide and are linked to serious health issues like heart disease, stroke, depression, dementia and even suicide. 

Some experts are calling it a national emergency.

Nearly one in four of the more than 140,000 respondents worldwide who took part in a new Meta-Gallup survey reported feeling very or fairly lonely, even before the pandemic, CNN reported last month. The 2022-’23 survey found that 24% of respondents 15 and older answered yes to the question, “How lonely do you feel?”

The numbers also show that rates of loneliness are highest in young adults, with 27% of those ages 19 to 29 reporting feeling very or fairly lonely. The lowest rates were found in older adults: Only 17% of people 65 and older reported feeling lonely, but of that group, one fourth are considered socially isolated, according to Psychology Today.

Loneliness and isolation in the elderly may seem a natural progression of old age, as people lose spouses, family members and friends simply by virtue of living longer. As for the rest of us, people across other age groups are spending less time with each other in person than two decades ago – and we know why that is. 

That factor, according to the Surgeon General, is most obvious in young people from 15 to 24, who have 70% less social – and personal – interaction with friends, often because they use cellphones and social media as replacements for in-person relationships, according to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. He also noted that participation in community organizations nationwide has declined in recent decades, causing more isolation.

“It’s hard to put a price tag, if you will, on the amount of human suffering that people are experiencing right now,” Murthy told the NPR program “All Things Considered.” “…  We are living with technology that has profoundly changed how we interact with each other and how we talk to each other. You can feel lonely even if you have a lot of people around you, because loneliness is about the quality of your connections.”

The topic will be addressed at a free session on Monday, Nov. 6, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Weinberg Commons’ Amy Silvers Community Building on Springdale Road in Cherry Hill.  Co-sponsored by Samaritan, the home health-care and hospice provider, the session will explore risk factors for social isolation and loneliness and offer strategies for making better social connections. 

What we do know of such strategies is that they involve some obvious solutions to the problem that individuals can incorporate fairly quickly, including meeting new people and engaging in social activities, joining clubs and other organizations that focus on activities they enjoy, exercising or eating with company and volunteering to help others.

“Human beings need social connections to thrive, and being embedded in strong, supportive networks can protect our well-being when we’re faced with difficulties in life,” Dr. Olivia Remes, a mental-health researcher at England’s University of Cambridge, told CNN.

Ellyn Maese, a senior research consultant with Gallup, said the survey “is a really good reminder that loneliness is not just a problem of aging. It’s a problem that can affect everyone at any age.”

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