At one point or another, most of us have experienced feeling lonely. These feelings can set in when we move to a new city or after the loss of a loved one for example. But, it’s the perpetual state of loneliness that has researchers now sounding the alarm. Turns out, isolation and loneliness can have detrimental effects on us and should be treated as a public health concern.
In a survey Cigna conducted of 20,000 Americans, 46% respondents sometimes or always feel alone, 43% feel isolated from others and only 18% have people they can talk to. Perhaps surprisingly, young people (ages 18-22) are far more likely than senior citizens to report being lonely and in poor health.
In addition to impacting mental health, loneliness can be a contributing factor to a number of physical ailments as well and can be literally, deadly. Loneliness can raise the levels of stress hormones and increase inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
While everyone experiences the effects of loneliness differently, ensuring it doesn’t lead to something more serious, like depression, is important. Spotting the signs of depression can go a long way toward helping friends and family in need. You don’t have to be an architect of human emotion to detect loneliness; here are some common signs:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches