Fact Sheet: Isolation and Loneliness
Health risks associated with loneliness and social isolation are comparable to the dangers of smoking and obesity, increasing mortality risk by up to 30%. Feeling alone increases the risk of death by 26%, while social isolation and living alone increases mortality risk by 29% and 32%, respectively, according to a March 2015 study.
- Social connections have a profound influence on risk for mortality and are associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death.
- Loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad.
Loneliness affects more than one-third of American adults, with particular likelihood among individuals facing challenging life circumstances like loss of a loved one, and chronic or catastrophic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, mental illness or cancer.
- Loneliness has negative effects on mental health, worsening depression, anxiety, mood disorders and cognitive decline, and on physical health, leading to higher rates cardiovascular impairment, chronic pain, and fatigue.
- Certain age groups, notably adolescents, young adults and older adults seem to be particularly at risk as marked by growing incidence of depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
- External factors may be accelerating the crisis; research indicates, for instance, Internet and social media engagement exacerbate feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety, according to a 2014 annual survey of college students.
- Here’s a 2018 overview of current research on the public health risks of isolation and loneliness.
- Jane E. Brody, “The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health,” Dec. 11, 2017, New York Times
- Andie Burjek, “Loneliness Creeps into Workplace Wellness World,” July 26, 2017, Workforce
- Judith Graham, “How Older Adults Can Recover from Loneliness,” May 18, 2017, Kaiser Health News
- Emily Holland, “The Government’s Role in Combating Loneliness: Medical experts say social isolation needs to be seen as a public-health issue,” Sept. 12, 2017, The Wall Street Journal
- Dhruv Khullar, “How Social Isolation Is Killing Us,” Dec. 22, 2016, New York Times
- Kasley Killam, “To Combat Loneliness, Promote Social Health: Mounting evidence shows that relationships should be a public health priority,” Jan. 23, 2018, Scientific American
- Jennifer Latson, “A Cure for Disconnection,” Psychology Today, March 7, 2018
- Gretchen Reynolds, “So Lonely It Hurts,” Dec. 10, 2015, New York Times
- Ceylan Yeginsujan, “U.K. Appoints a Minister for Loneliness,” Jan. 17, 2018, New York Times
- Justin Worland, “Why Loneliness May Be the Next Big Public-Health Issue,” March 18, 2015, Time