Being alone can sometimes be refreshing, especially for introverts. But there’s a big difference between a little solitude when you want it, and loneliness and social isolation. We already knew the latter made us miserable, but now we also know just how bad it is for our health. A new study from Brigham Young University found that loneliness was as much a threat to longevity as obesity, a condition that gets a lot more media attention, probably because it’s a lot more visible and psychological issues are still mostly taboo.
Warning to you chronic loners out there: Loneliness and social isolation can look very different. For example, someone may be surrounded by many people but still feel alone. Other people may isolate themselves because they prefer to be alone. But according to the study, the effect on longevity of the two scenarios is similar.
We truly are social animals.
Another somewhat surprising finding:
The association between loneliness and risk for mortality among young populations is actually greater than among older populations. Although older people are more likely to be lonely and face a higher mortality risk, loneliness and social isolation better predict premature death among populations younger than 65 years.
So don’t think that because you are young you are immune from the effects of loneliness on your health.
Loneliness by Hans Thoma/Public Domain
“The effect of this is comparable to obesity, something that public health takes very seriously,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the lead study author. “We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”
Will we one day be prescribed friends by our doctor?
The way things are going, our society certainly isn’t helping. “Not only are we at the highest recorded rate of living alone across the entire century, but we’re at the highest recorded rates ever on the planet,” said Tim Smith, co-author of the study. “With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future.”
The study was a kind of meta-study, analyzing data from other health studies, looking at 3 million people overall. It was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.