The World Health Organization (WHO) says that loneliness is a big health problem globally. The US surgeon general even compared its effects on health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Loneliness is not a new thing, but people are talking about it more now as a serious health and social issue. In 2018 and 2021, the UK and Japan appointed ministers to deal with loneliness. The US Surgeon General recently called loneliness a big health problem, like smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The COVID-19 pandemic, with social distancing and changes to how people work, has made loneliness a bigger issue.
Being lonely is not just about being alone. It’s about not having meaningful connections with others. Loneliness can harm physical health, causing problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
But fixing loneliness is not easy. It’s hard to measure because it’s a feeling, and everyone feels it differently. Loneliness is not just one thing; it depends on cultural norms and personal experiences. Comparing it to smoking helps explain how bad it can be, but it doesn’t give clear solutions. There’s no product to tax or regulate, and no clear way to fix it.
We should see loneliness as something that happens because of how our societies are built. The places we live and work can make it hard to connect with others. More people are working from home, making it tough to have real connections with colleagues. Social media, which is supposed to bring people together, can actually make us feel more disconnected. Issues like poverty, racism, and prejudice can cause loneliness. Society is becoming more about individuals and less about being part of a group, and this might be making loneliness worse. We need to look at these root causes and figure out how to change them.
We also need better information a there’s not enough data, especially in poorer countries. We also need better ways to measure loneliness. Loneliness affects people of all ages, not just older folks, so we need to understand it throughout life. Young people, who need social connections for development, might be especially at risk.
Loneliness is a big issue that everyone should care about. Health professionals can make a difference by having meaningful interactions with patients, even if it’s just for a short time. Building a connection, even briefly, can really matter.