Researchers from the University of Chicago say loneliness can lead to insomnia, depression and even suicidal thoughts. Their study also shows that social isolation doesn’t only affect the elderly.
Data shows up to 80% of under 18s in America reported feeling lonely. Of those aged 65+, 40% said they regularly felt lonely. Overall a third of the population admitted to chronic loneliness.
Dr Louise Hawkley (from the National Opinion Research Centre at the University of Chicago) says feeling alone in this way can seriously affect health – both physically and mentally. The research included children who said they felt miserable.
According to the findings, children who complained about feeling lonely often went on to suffer from depression when they reached adolescence. Interestingly, the more often they felt lonely when they were teens, the greater their risk of heart and cardiovascular problems. By age 26, they were more likely to have high blood pressure and be overweight compared to their peers.
Dr Hawkley’s findings also point to a link between loneliness and cognitive decline. She says it is important that we understand these health implications and how we can improve social connections.
“Understanding the factors that protect against loneliness may suggest intervention targets that harness the power of social connectedness to reduce the health and fitness consequences of loneliness.”
A related study suggests the long-term feelings of extreme isolation can be deadlier for older people than being obese. In this study 2,000 people aged 50+ were tracked for six years. The results showed that those who reported being lonely had a 14% greater risk of dying.
Several other studies highlight the link between loneliness and high blood pressure, even in modest levels of loneliness.