May 21, 2019

America's Loneliness Epidemic Starts in Childhood

“Indeed, according to a recent report by the healthcare company Cigna, nearly half of adults in the U.S. reported sometimes or always feeling alone. Marriage rates and religious-participation rates are also dropping, which are both risk factors for social isolation and loneliness. And the prevalence of loneliness seems to be especially acute among young adults: One study last year found that Americans between the ages of 21 and 30 reported feeling lonely for twice as many days as adults between ages 50 and 70, despite having larger social networks. The health consequences of loneliness can be severe: Studies suggest chronic loneliness is linked to a variety of health issues, like decreased immunity to viral infections, poor sleep, and cardiovascular issues like hypertension.

Loneliness and social isolation, it’s worth noting, are often used interchangeably, but they’re two distinct concepts. Loneliness is a feeling that may or may not depend on how many meaningful confidants they have in their life—some people feel lonely or suffer from chronic loneliness despite not being socially isolated. Still, social isolation is a leading contributor to loneliness.

The ideal school curriculum for teaching loneliness prevention, Holt-Lunstad says, would target social isolation as well as the cognitive processes that make people feel more lonely—while, of course, teaching students the health risks associated with loneliness. “Recognizing that it’s something that we need to take seriously for our health is a primary and critical step,” she says.”

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