The Loneliness Epidemic: Serious Long-term Health Risks

Studies show that loneliness has very real physical consequences.

Posted in , Jul 30, 2018

A woman sitting alone on a bench at a park on a crisp Autumn day.

Content provided by Good Samaritan Society.

There’s no easy way to say this. Loneliness is serious. In fact, it’s so serious that it can lead to an early death. Extensive research is uncovering more and more health risks.

It's already well known that smoking, obesity and environmental factors can cause an early demise. Loneliness, however, is a relative newcomer to the field of potentially fatal conditions.

Often high blood pressure or diabetes are referred to as “silent killers." Loneliness and social isolation would also fit into that category. In fact, high blood pressure was found by a University of Chicago study to be a major byproduct of loneliness and social isolation.

Read more: Faith, Family and Community Against the Loneliness Epidemic

During that study, researchers took a sample of people who were described as lonely against a sample of individuals who had solid social and familial connections. The researchers determined that the group identifying as lonely saw their blood pressure rise by 14.4 mm more than the other group. This happened over a period of four years.

The study also found:

  • Living alone increases the risk of suicide: Isolation brings about stress, anxiety and depression. In some cases, even alcoholism. All of those are triggers for suicide.
  • Lonely individuals report higher levels of stress: Even when they're relaxing, lonely people say they feel the pressure of the world on them.
  • The social interaction that lonely people do have isn't as positive as those of other people: The quality of the relationships that they do have don't provide relief from the stress of being lonely and isolated. 
  • Loneliness raises levels of stress hormones: This causes an imbalance in the circulatory system so that the heart has to work harder.
  • Loneliness hinders quality of sleep: Isolated individuals wake up more often during the night and spend more time in bed not sleeping. 

Studies like this one, and many others, highlight that loneliness is not just a psychological condition. It has very real physical consequences. While loneliness isn't a chronic illness that will directly cause death, a lack of social connections can lead to serious health risks that result in death. 

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