Loneliness might not be considered a disease, but with all of its attendant symptoms, perhaps it should be. And like many powerful and unaddressed illnesses, loneliness is spreading to epidemic proportions. In the United States alone, 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as lonely. Approximately 40 years ago, the percentage was half that. Feeling isolated is tied to a number of physical, emotional, and psychological issues, from weakened immune systems and higher stress levels to a higher risk of stroke and heart disease. One analysis of 3.4 million Americans determined that isolated individuals -- especially those in middle age -- are more likely to die within the next seven years than people who aren't isolated. And while the problem is clearly severe, addressing it is equally problematic. Many factors can contribute to someone becoming isolated, so there's no such thing as a single cure. Dr. John Cacioppo, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, has been working on ways to combat the problem. He believes that a big first step is getting people to reconsider how they interact with others. From there, creating more structure can be a big help. That can include forming new bonds with others by learning new skills or sharing an experience.
The loneliness struggle:
- Having one meaningful relationship is considered a better cure for loneliness than having several more superficial friendships.
- Single people aren't the only lonely ones; it is estimated that 60 percent of married individuals feel lonely.
- Studies have found that chronic loneliness translates to a 14 percent increase in the likelihood of dying young.