Social isolation and loneliness is increasing in many industrialized countries as the structure of traditional society is loosening from an agrarian to a modern one. Young people with better education are moving from the extended family structure usually found in the rural areas to the city and settling into modern housing where individualism is the defining structure of life.
Many are delaying marriage until they can find the income to pay for their mortgages and some may remain single until middle age. Now, a new study by Brigham Young University found that loneliness can be the next public health crisis so serious that it can be gauged on par with obesity and substance abuse.
According to the study and published in the Journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, loneliness can increase death by as much as 26%.
Social isolation — or lacking social connection — and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely, respectively increasing mortality risk by 29% and 32%.
“This is something that we need to take seriously for our health. This should become a public-health issue.” says Brigham Young University researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an author of the study.
“If we just tell people to interact with more people, that might solve the social-isolation issue, but it might not solve the loneliness issue,” she said. “I think we need to acknowledge that both of these components are important.”