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The Health Dangers of Loneliness

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

According to the Oxford American Dictionary the word, lonely, is defined as “having no friends or companionship, being solitary, and having no family who cares for the individual.” The dictionary goes on to state that being lonely promotes a sense of sadness as a result of this isolation.

Dr. James J. Lynch, PhD, an expert on stress and health, has written a couple of important and popular books on the health consequences of loneliness. The first is titled The Broken Heart, The Medical Consequences of Loneliness, and an updated version of the same text entitled A Cry Unheard, New Insights Into the Medical Consequences of Loneliness. In each book he makes a compelling argument, back up by plenty of statistics across the nation, for loneliness leading to all types of diseases, especially cardiovascular types, leading to heart attacks and early death. He goes on to point out that the combination of the breakdown of the American family structure along with a very high rate of divorce and single parenting has left huge numbers of people vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness.

Now, two University of Chicago psychologists, Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo, completed a study of the effects of loneliness on people as they age. Their results were reported in Current Directions In Psychological Science. What they found, after studying and comparing two groups of people for many years, (one group was college age and the second group was in their late 50’s) all people experience various types of stress throughout life but lonely people have poor coping skills. People who are lonely feel helpless, threatened and, interestingly, fail to seek help for the problems with which they are struggling. This failure further reinforces their loneliness and helplessness.

Among the health consequences for these older lonely people was high blood pressure leading to serious and dangerous diabetes and heart disease. To be specific, lonely people were found to have high level of stress hormones in their bodies, such as epinephrine. Chronically high levels of these stress hormones promote cardiovascular disease.

It is important to state that everyone needs time to be alone. However, having some alone time while being involved with family and friends stands in sharp contrast to the chronic state of loneliness.

The two researchers from the University of Chicago warn that loneliness and its consequences pose an ever greater problem as American society continues to age.

How to Fight Loneliness:

Whether retired or not, there are many things people can do to prevent loneliness. For one, there is a constant need for volunteers. Whether it is in the public library, a local hospital, a nursing home, or the Human Society, volunteers are needed and sought after. What is reinforcing about do this type of thing is that it creates the opportunity to meet and make friends with other volunteers while becoming involved in the community. In this way, it actually becomes difficult to remain lonely for very long.

Dr. Lynch makes, in my opinion, a valid point when he says that involvement in one’s religious organization wards off loneliness. The reason for this is that, whether people are religious or not, involvement in the Church, Synagogue or Mosque, promotes social involvement and creates a sense of belongingness.

Your comments are welcome.

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