“And I, I must confess I still believe, still believe…”
No, this isn’t 1998 and no this isn’t some musical critique of ‘Baby One More Time’ by Britney Spears. However, the lyrics make for a smooth transition into the reality of what it means to be lonely. Experts have come to the premise that loneliness is a larger and far worse concept than we thought…and it’s only getting worse.
Although Britney was not too off track with her lyrics, this isn’t about her. This post isn’t even about me, it’s about the concept of loneliness and how it’s affecting our damn health.
With our phones, social media and the internet ruling our every move, feeling a tad bit lonely is bound to happen. Yes, we might feel “connected” to the world, but online presences won’t ever come close (at least I think so) to the bond you can make through physical human interaction. I’m not just talking about sexual intimacy either, I’m talking about any connection shared between one ore more person when they are face to face, versus Facetime to Facetime.
All these things are just a distraction – a facade if you will, and it’s making us more isolated than ever. Now, experts are saying this can have a major effect on our health. During the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, a study on the connection between social isolation and public health was shared. This research focused on the notion that “[s]ocial isolation” posed a far “greater threat to public health than obesity.”
According to the AARP’s study on loneliness, approximately 42.6 million adults over the age of 45 in the USA suffer from chronic loneliness. The U.S. census data also shows that more than ¼ of the population lives alone, more than ½ of the population is single (not married), and the total number of marriages and children per household have declined.
What does this all mean?
Well, for one these drifts propose that Americans are becoming less social, less connected and prone to “experiencing more loneliness.” It also suggests a significant decrease in life expectancy in the U.S. WTF?
“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, in a statement. “With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase. Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic.’ The challenge we face now is what can be done about it.”
Think about it. Sharing a physical and social connection is a basic human need. It’s crucial to our well-being, both physically and mentally. It’s also one of the building blocks of survival. Several studies have been conducted to show the effects the lack of human contact can have on a person. Research has shown that touch can serve as an important social tool. A simple hug can reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Another study from the Touch Research Institute (part of the University of Miami) found that Parisian teenagers touch each other more than their American peers. Basically, American adolescents are more aggressive towards their friends compared to their French peers because of their lack of intimacy.
“Touching each other keeps the peace,” explains Dr. Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute. “Touch facilitates intimacy, and most people you touch won’t respond with aggression.”
Keep in mind, these studies are focused on the older demographic.
We haven’t even touched on the younger generation – Gen Z or iGen as Psychologist Jean Twenge calls them. The Atlantic released an interesting article this week which laid out some disturbing truths. Twenge explained how the rates of teen suicide and depression have increased exponentially since 2011.
“It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones,” Twenge writes. “[The] twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.”
Loneliness is a very real and very serious reality for both teenagers and adults. In some cases, this loneliness can spiral into deep depressions, poor general health and suicidal tendencies. This reality is widespread and is increasing. The lack of connection, or fallacy of it, cannot be ignored.
I can go on and on with all the studies conducted on social connections through humans, hell, I can even conduct my own study. However, I think at this point it’s obvious that physical interaction is necessary to live a healthy life. It is clear that social media and the internet has led our nation into a “loneliness epidemic.”
We might not be able to stop this prevalent loneliness, but we can do things to improve. Becoming aware and acknowledging that there is a problem is a start. Seeing it in others and taking action to help them is another step in the right direction.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, or just want someone to talk to, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can chat about anything and everything, OTR.
Whatever you decide to do, just remember, you don’t have to do it alone.