Loneliness is an important public health issue
The American Medical Association has defined loneliness as a public health issue for all Americans. Why loneliness? Why public health? Loneliness is found across demographics, at every age level. It is not a matter of how many friends you have, rather, loneliness is feeling a lack of connection with other people. You may have many friends or superficial contacts, but you are not experiencing the deeper sense of connection that you are looking for.
Psychologists distinguish between loneliness, the feeling of lack of connection, and social isolation, which is when a person actually has very few social connections. Social isolation may or may not lead to feeling lonely, since for some people a few connections are enough, and may be providing the deeper sense of connection that we all need.
Loneliness is a phenomenon that we all need to be taking seriously.
It can lead to increased rates of illness and death, perhaps because nurturing social networks enable faster and fuller healing or even may protect members of the network from some kinds of hurts. Lack of connection may be more common among the elderly, who may experience difficulty getting out to visit friends or attend church services, but since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness rates have shot up among all age groups, especially among young adults and teens, where rates were lower before the pandemic.
Loneliness is a serious issue for everyone, there is no reason to feel ashamed or unworthy of speaking out if you need more human connection. For some, there may be structural barriers to overcome. Many disabled persons lead very isolated lives and loneliness may also be of particular concern in marginalized groups like immigrants, who may struggle with English, or LBGTQ+ communities who still experience prejudice and discrimination.
For all of us, an increased focus on loneliness and its importance in our lives will bring significant health benefits, to ourselves, our loved ones and other members of the communities we live in. Remember that many people feel the same way you do, it is not your fault. We need to look at the resources available in our communities and make sure they are available to all on an equitable basis. What better way to overcome loneliness than by working to make sure that others are not lonely?