To Combat Loneliness, Promote Social Health

By Kasley Killam

Last week, the United Kingdom appointed a Minister for Loneliness to address the finding that nine million British people often or always feel lonely. To some, this may come as a surprise.

It should not. Loneliness and social isolation are on the rise, leading many to call it an epidemic. In recent decades, the number of people with zero confidants has tripled, and most adults do not belong to a local community group. Consequently, more than one third of Americans over the age of 45 report feeling lonely, with prevalence especially high among those under 25 and over 65 years old. “We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization,” writes the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, “yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.”

While this alarming trend has grown, so has understanding of its impact. By now, the evidence is abundant and decisive: social connection significantly affects health. When you believe that you have people in your life who care about you, and you interact with them regularly, you are better off. For instance, you may be less likely to catch a cold, have a stroke or heart disease, slip into early cognitive decline, and develop depression. You may even be more likely to overcome socio-economic disadvantages, recover quickly from illness, and live longer. A study at Harvard University that followed hundreds of people for 75 years identified the quality of people’s relationships as the single clearest predictor of their physical health, longevity, and quality of life.

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