A former U.S. Surgeon General observed that loneliness is the most prevalent pathology of our time. Health experts call loneliness an epidemic that will escalate as the population ages. Almost half of Americans of all ages report feeling lonely or isolated. This trend carries woeful implications for our collective economy and well-being. The government has spent billions to deal with social isolation. Research ties perceived lack of meaningful relationships to a drastic increase in stroke, cardiovascular disease, mental illness, and self-destructive behaviors.
Loneliness is a subjective experience compared to isolation, a more quantifiable state. The former is a feeling of distress connected to one's perception of the quantity and quality of their relationships. The roots and results of this complex emotion differ according to each person’s desires, needs, and values. A study in Public Policy & Aging Report in 2017 suggests that loneliness is more detrimental to health than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Lonely feelings may stem from:
Lonely feelings and isolation are not mutually dependent. Social isolation has to do with the quantity of one's social connections, frequency of interaction, and access to information and resources. Factors such as life transitions, illness, and transportation difficulties can isolate a person from family and community. The AARP estimates that over eight million people aged 50 and older are socially isolated.
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