Why has the USA Labelled Loneliness as Epidemic? Are we Losing Meaning in our Relationships?

By harishsystango
December 30, 2020

Do you feel lonely? Ironically, you are far from alone. According to a survey conducted by the health service company, Cigna, the loneliness epidemic is escalating in the USA with nearly half of the Americans sometimes or always feeling alone or left out. Loneliness becoming epidemic, shocking isn’t it? However, it is a sad truth that loneliness is emerging as a new public health challenge.

In this article, we will be covering various studies that suggest that loneliness has turned into the loneliness epidemic not only in America but also in various other parts of the world. Also, we will be highlighting the rat-race of the modern world, where we’re digitally connected as possible, however, we are losing the true meaning in the relationships, which in turn makes many of us feel abject loneliness.

Contents of the blog

How Loneliness Plagues Our Life?

Many of us have suffered from loneliness at some point in life. Loneliness is a condition of relational disconnection which makes you feel prolonged bouts of solitude and social awkwardness. Lonely people tend to struggle with issues like anxiety and depression, which makes them insecure and they become hopeless about finding desirable and compatible friendships. Lonely people often have an underdeveloped sense of one’s worthiness, likeability and attractiveness, which prevents them from getting involved in new relationships. 

Loneliness for a prolonged period can lead to suicidal thoughts and physical problems such as obesity, high blood pressure and also increased the likelihood of strokes. Thus, loneliness not only causes mental issues, but there are severe effects of loneliness on your physical health.

Why has the USA Labelled Loneliness as Epidemic?

There are many researchers in recent years that suggest that loneliness is not just a fleeting feeling, it is a chronic ache. There are effects on loneliness daily lives of the people and also their sense of well-being. Here is a nationwide survey by the health insurer Cigna which underscores that loneliness has become widespread in America and has turned to a Loneliness Epidemic.

The company performed a survey on more than 2000 US adults who are 18 years and above. The survey included a 20-questionnaire to assess the subjective feelings of loneliness as well as social isolation. 

Here are the findings of the survey:

  • Nearly 46-47%half of Americans report feeling lonely sometimes or always feeling alone.
  • 27% of Americans feel that there is no one in their family or friends who understands them. 
  • 43% of people say that their relationships are not meaningful and they are lacking companionship in their relationships.
  • 18-20% of people report that they never felt close to someone in their friends and family and they have no one to talk to.

The study furthermore reported that only 53% Americans spend quality time with their family on a daily basis, have friends for extended conversations and have meaningful in-person relationships. Generation Z, which includes adults from age 18-22 is the loneliest generation and the impact of loneliness on this generation is worse than the older generations.

Apart from the shocking stats that show how Americans are getting infected with the loneliness epidemic, there were some bright spots of the study as well. The findings also reinforce the social nature of humans and the importance of relational wealth. 

Here are the inferences:

  1. People need meaningful relationships- The survey showed that people who engage in meaningful interactions with friends and family have lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely have face-to-face conversation with people. This suggests the importance of relationships and also reveals a hard truth of the modern lifestyle – we’re actually losing the true meaning in our relationships.
  1. Sleep matters- The present lifestyle has made us night owls where we spend our weekdays meeting our deadlines and weekends in late night parties and clubbing. According to this study, people who sleep for 7-8 hours have lower loneliness scores, which is four points less than who sleep less than 7-8 hours and 7 points less than those who sleep more than desired. People with optimal sleep patterns are significantly less likely to feel that they lack companionship.
  1. Physical Activity is must- People who are involved in one or the other physical activity are less likely to feel lonely. People who exercise more often and who exercise just the right amount feel that they are a part of a group of friends and can find companionship whenever they feel so.
  1. Working hours should be optimal- Study also included questions related to working hours, which suggested that people who work just the right amount have a lower loneliness score than the one who spend more time working. The loneliness score of people working more than the desired hours have a 3-point more loneliness score and people working less than the desired hours have 6-point more loneliness score than the optimal score.

All in all, loneliness has a profound impact on both physical and mental wellbeing of a person. According to Dr Steve Ellen, a psychiatrist and co-author of Mental: Everything you Never Knew you Needed to Know About, “In order for things to improve, the health consequences of loneliness must be taken seriously and become part of our everyday conversations around health.”

Has Loneliness Become Epidemic Worldwide?

Loneliness has reached crisis point in the UK

Social isolation is more prevalent than ever, and it’s high time we should treat it as a serious health condition. In a survey conducted by BBC Radio 4 in the year 2018, it was found that the effects of loneliness are widespread and more intense in people from age group between 16 to 24. And, it is mostly because the people of this age tend to compare their social lives with the followers on Instagram. The increasingly digitised life is making loneliness to reach epidemic levels.

As per psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad, loneliness and poor social connections are as deteriorating for health as 15 cigarettes a day and increases the risk of death by 29 percent. Loneliness has now become a problem not only for health but for the economy as well.

Loneliness is public health issue in Australia

Not only in the UK and the USA, but loneliness has also hit epidemic proportions in Australia. According to the study proposed by Swinburne University and Australian Psychological Society, the one in four Australian adults have reported feeling lonely. Also, the people who have reported feeling lonely have significantly worse health status physically and mentally than those with strong connections. Lonely Australians are 15.2% more likely to be depressed and 13.1% are more likely to be anxious than those who don’t feel lonely.

The studies from various parts of the world suggest only one thing – we have become lonelier than ever. Hectic work life, chase of luxury comfort, involvement in social media and lack of values in relationships is making us socially isolated. We remain deeply involved in attaining the riches of the world that we are neglecting the importance of relationships. We are acquiring materialistic things and money, but we are losing relational wealth, which is the underlying cause behind the loneliness epidemic that is infecting people worldwide.

Are We Losing the true Meaning in our Relationships?

Loneliness can affect people at any point, however, it is more common among two groups i.e. young people who are between the ages of 15-20 and elderly (aged 50 and above). Now the question is why is loneliness turning to be an epidemic? Where there is a gap between the connections you want and you already have? The answer is the modern competitive struggle to become better and richer than others. Though there are several factors that lead to loneliness, however the most common that has changed loneliness from a mental state to loneliness pandemic is the contemporary lifestyle. 

Today, we prefer chatting on social media than face-to-face conversations, we prefer listening to podcasts or watching videos on YouTube than interacting with our colleagues or fellow travellers, we prefer playing PUBG than planning a gateway with our friends. Today, we have hundreds and thousands of followers on social media, yet we find it hard to communicate with one and end up being lonely.

Dr Steve Ellen, psychiatrist and author, firmly believes that we can fight loneliness by building deeper connections with our family and friends, getting involved into social activities, along with including physical exercises and healthy diet in our daily routine. Ellen, who’s helped people struggling with the impact of loneliness, offers the following advice.

“If you think you may be suffering with symptoms of loneliness, anxiety or depression, see your general public. If you feel your loneliness is circumstantial, start researching your local area and look for community programs, groups, volunteering opportunities and courses that interest you.”

In 2002, Ed Diener, an expert in happiness, published a study in Psychological Science, according to which the people who share good bonds in their relationships, spend the least time alone and the most time socializing are the happiest and healthy. In contrast to this, researchers found that unhappy people have relationships that are weaker than average

Conclusion

By and large, all the studies mentioned in the article suggest that our current approach towards life has made the mental state “loneliness” turn to “loneliness epidemic”. The pursuit of material goods is often inadequate in distracting us from fears and satiating emptiness. In the present money-driven world, we need to understand the importance of relationships and cultivate relational wealth to prevent ourselves from the loneliness epidemic, to protect ourselves from mental health problems and to take care of our emotional well-being.

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