Humans are not meant to be, or to feel, alone. A recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent. Loneliness and isolation have been linked to stress, depression, and suicidal behaviour.
Unfortunately, social isolation is prevalent. In 2017, a poll found that half a million people in the UK over the age of 60 spend each day alone with no social interaction, and in two-thirds of European countries, over 1 in 10 persons aged 65 or over either has no friends, or they never meet up with them. And it is not just seniors who are at risk; Social isolation can affect people of all ages who suffer from long-term illness, disability, economic struggles, or depression.
7 percent never meet friends
Loneliness and social isolation is a public health issue that can affect people of all ages. It can be hard to measure how many people suffer. Some are concerned that there is a stigma attached to loneliness, for example. In 2006, 7.2 percent of Europeans were socially isolated – this is the share of the population who said that they never meet up with friends or relatives, not even once a year. This figure is regarded as an extreme degree of isolation.
Seniors are particularly vulnerable due to the loss of friends and family, mobility, poor health, or income. Living alone can also lead to loneliness. According to EU statistics on income and living conditions, 13.4 percent of households within the EU-28 in 2013 was composed of a single person aged 65 or over. Also, a recent survey found that almost three-quarters of older people in the UK are lonely.
Young people are also lonely
Young people are also affected, and isolated children are at risk of poor adult health. A 2010 report by the Mental Health Foundation found that the 18-to-34-year-olds surveyed were more likely than the over-55s to feel lonely often and to feel depressed because of loneliness. Further, while some turn to online social networking for solace, research suggests that young people’s use of social media may be contributing to their social isolation. Ethan Kross, a social psychologist from the University of Michigan, finds that social media use can increase, rather than alleviate, loneliness in young adults:
Ethan Kross, University of Michigan
Rather than enhancing well-being, as frequent interactions with supportive ‘offline’ social networks powerfully do, the current findings demonstrate that interacting with Facebook may predict the opposite result for young adults – it may undermine it.
Social isolation and loneliness are a key public health issue. We need to find ways to tackle isolation by fostering social connections and breaking down the barriers that hinder social contact.