The Problem

A recent Cigna study shows how increasing loneliness in our society – they estimate nearly half of all Americans had feelings of loneliness and isolation – contributes greatly to poor mental and physical health.

Cigna reports loneliness increasing for a variety of factors including the rise of social networks such as Facebook that actually tend to make people feel more alone and isolated. This research shows that people who are lonely and isolated are more likely to have heart disease and stroke, get immune system problems, and may even have a harder time recovering from cancer.

From the article:

“Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a psychologist at Brigham Young University who studies loneliness and its health effects, has found loneliness makes premature death more likely for people of all ages. In 2017, she presented new research linking loneliness and social isolation to a number of health risks at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention.

Her paper cited data from two analyses. The first tracked 148 studies, involving more 300,000 participants, and found that greater social connection is associated with 50% lower odds of early death. The second, involving 70 studies representing more than 3.4 million people, found that social isolation, loneliness, or living alone boosted the chance of premature death at least as much as obesity.

“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” Holt-Lunstad wrote. “With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase.”

We must be proactive

This is why for years I have been talking about proactive social support not just for those who serve us – military, first responders, counselors, pastors, and veterans – but for all of us. We all need deeper relationships and more of them. We need to build communities, not forsake them or imitate them digitally.

I have worked with many police departments and the military on developing peer support programs. One of my first messages at these talks and trainings is always, “Peer support is social support and must be proactive“. If you and I don’t have a relationship, the chances that we will lean on each other when times are tough is slim. What can you do this holiday season to build relationships? Call an old friend, invite that new person at work to dinner, have your squad or team over for a dinner, well, you get the picture. Looking out for each other requires work. But it’s the best work, the kind of work that develops foundations of community and support that we need in our ever increasing age of loneliness and isolation.

What can you do today?

As you ponder this study and these words, ask yourself, what can I do today to reach out to someone and make this world a little less lonely and isolated? I would love to hear what you are doing or plan to do.

As always, if you are looking for resources, my books are a great way to start, and I’m always interested in hearing from organizations, police departments, the Armed Forces, and others in need of a speaker or training on PTSD, resiliency, and peer support. Learn more about my speaking or contact me directly to let me know how I can help you.

2019 is going to be a great year, many blessings to you and yours.

November 20, 2018