What is the Loneliness Epidemic?

A new study reveals a new health epidemic affecting our country, especially women.

Dr Mehmet Oz is sharing his take on what he’s calling a loneliness epidemic. Oz is a cardiothoracic surgeon, who has lead his health-focused talk show for 8 years now. Over the summer he conducted a survey with his team to over 1,500 women. The results of this survey revealed that 60% of women deal with loneliness, with 20% feeling lonely most of the time.

portrait Doctor Oz
Dr. Oz

Oz explains he was surprised to find we are dealing with a loneliness epidemic.

“They have drive-by friendships. Sure, they have social media and they text their friends, but it’s not the same as actually looking someone in the eyes and communicating,” he adds.

man consumed with phone in subway station
Texting and messaging friends on social media is not same as face-to-face communication.

The interaction on social networks are superficial, often times increases loneliness and self-criticism for those constantly comparing their lives to the curated lives people share online.

The online platforms by nature, allow individuals to create personas of themselves. They lack authenticity, and frequently they lack the shared struggles and suffering many face, and instead focus on just the highlights. The relationships developed there also typically lack the depth and interpersonal connection a genuine face to face connection can bring.

graph showing increase in loneliness for teens after iPhone was released in 2007
This study of teens on lonliness demonstrates that communication through technology is often superficial, as the release of the iPhone correlates with the increasing of lonliness since 2007. Credit: Free Range Kids

The need for human interaction is long touted as beneficial to overall health and well-being.  One study found that a lack of personal connections has a larger impact on health than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. Whereas, social connections increase chances of longevity by 50% and strengthens our immune system. It also lowers risk of anxiety and depression, and improves self-esteem, empathy, and trust.

list of what people who report being less likely are more likely to have
Credit: Cigna, U.S. Loneliness Index, 2018

Females have higher rates of depression than males in every age group, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The highest rate of depression was found in women ages 40-59, at 11.5%, and the lowest rate is found in males ages 12-17.

percentages of people with depression in the U.S. by age and sex
Women (10.4%) were almost twice as likely as were men (5.5%) to have had depression. Credit: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Oz, explains, “We need to look at each other and have empathy and inquire back and forth, by actually seeing each other as we speak. Social media is fabulous because it gives you many opportunities to connect with people, however, sometimes it will falsely lead you to believe that you are getting what you need out of it.”

"Social media...gives you many opportunities to connect with people, however, sometimes it will falsely lead you to believe that you are getting what you need out of it.”

He advises to utilize social media as a way to make initial connect with friends and family, but to go further and reach out with a phone call or to meet up in person.

While technology has added a high level of ease to communication, when you can connect in a dozen different way in minutes, we’re still seeing a sharp rise in loneliness, with the rate of loneliness doubling in the last 50 years in the US. One factor that may be impacting these rates in independent living, as those who live with others tend to feel less lonely, and living independently for longer is becoming more common. One in five Americans report rarely or never feeling close to others, while two in five Americans feel their relationships are not meaningful.

facts about the state of loneliness in America
Facts about loneliness in America. Credit: Cigna, U.S. Loneliness Index, 2018

Striving to genuinely connect with others is the first step in overcoming loneliness. But if your loneliness has evolved into genuine depression, and includes other symptoms of depression like persistent depressed mood, sleep issues, eating issues, and a lack of enjoyment in things, you should also seek professional support through therapy before the issues become worse. If you’re unable to connect through personal relationships, the support of a professional therapist can offer relieve, provide a chance to feel heard, and offer skills to overcome loneliness and depression.

tips to finding balance to decrease loneliness
Besides therapy, balancing these four aspects of your life may greatly reduce your loneliness. Credit: Cigna, U.S. Loneliness Index, 2018
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