Fighting the Loneliness Epidemic
Family, friends, and meaningful work help us build connections that make us feel like we’re part of something. But when we lose that feeling, long-term or permanent loneliness can be the result.
Though we have more and more ways of communicating, statistics show that 65% of people surveyed say they’ve been significantly lonely. The issue is more serious in women and as you get older: Women are more likely to outlive a spouse and need more social connection than men generally.
Dr. Jeremy Noble, Faculty, Center for Primary Care, Harvard Medical School, and President and Founder, Foundation for Art & Healing (http://www.artandhealing.org/), says loneliness is a public health problem and is getting worse.
“On the mental health side, loneliness and isolation increase the risk for depression, substance abuse and suicide,” says Noble. “In addition to mental health, loneliness appears to significantly impair physical health, with lonely people having an increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke and cancer.” Lonely people’s risk of death is about the same as the increased risk by being a smoker.
None of us plan to be lonely, but certain life shifts can be problematic. If you are a caregiver, your focus on another person can lead to isolation. Losing a job or changing careers can be tricky, as well as when kids leave home. With these changes, relationships grow and fade. Loneliness can strike after having a full cohort of friends and family, perhaps when you move to a new area. Any time old patterns of connection stop working, they have to be replaced.
To engage with the issue, the Foundation has launched The UnLoneliness Project, an outreach effort aimed at eliminating loneliness through expression in the creative arts in vulnerable groups of people such as senior citizens.
As part of the project a recent film festival focused on the stories of groups most at risk of loneliness: young adults, veterans, older adults and caregivers and employees in the workplace.
The project also aims, according to its mission statement, to conduct more research on how to reduce “the burden of loneliness for millions of Americans.”
Noble notes what brain science has found about fixing your sense of isolation. “Our research has shown that simple creative arts expression can often be a path to finding a way to make and share a personal story, embodied in a drawing, a poem or a song. By sharing that “story” with others, you become less alone, and the good news is that they do too!”
For more about The UnLoneliness Project, click here.