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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Buckland

Loneliness Unveiled: 11 Surprising Stats on Its Impact on Mental and Physical Health

Loneliness and social isolation have become pervasive issues in the UK, profoundly affecting a significant portion of the population. In 2022, a staggering 49.63% of adults in the UK, totalling 25.99 million individuals, reported experiencing occasional, frequent, or constant feelings of loneliness. Despite the intention of technological advances to bring us together, research shows that feelings of isolation and disconnection are on the rise [1].


Understanding Loneliness and Its Impact

Loneliness Definition and Meaning: Loneliness is a complex and typically unpleasant emotional response to isolation. It can be both emotional loneliness, stemming from a lack of deep, meaningful relationships, and social loneliness, arising from the absence of a wider social network.


Loneliness and Health: The detrimental impact of loneliness and social isolation on our overall health is often underestimated. Ground-breaking research by Naomi Eisenberger and her team demonstrated that even short-term experiences of social exclusion ignite our stress and fear responses. This highlights the primacy of our need to be connected and emphasises the risk to marginalised groups, including individuals facing physical or mental health challenges, financial instability, those living alone, members of the LGBTQ+ community, older people, and anyone identifying as a minority group [2].


How Loneliness Affects Health

Loneliness and social isolation can impact both our physiology and psychology, influencing our behaviour and adversely affecting daily activities and functions. For example, feeling disconnected is associated with an increase in difficulties with activities of daily living and a greater risk of being inactive and smoking [3, 4]. There is also evidence that social support can influence following medication guidance [5].


 

11 Health Statistics


Physical Health Impacts

  1. Comparable to National Health Crises: The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality is comparable to or has a similar impact as obesity and cigarette smoking [6].

  2. Linked to Premature Death: Loneliness can increase the risk of early mortality by 26% [7].

  3. Associated with Major Health Risks: Acute stress responses [8], increased risk of high blood pressure [9], and reduced immunity against infections [10].

  4. Increased Risk of Major Heart Events: A 29% increase in the risk of coronary heart disease and a 32% increase in the risk of stroke [11].

  5. A Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes [12]: One longitudinal study found that feeling isolated was associated with double the risk of type 2 diabetes [13].

  6. Disrupted Sleep: Loneliness is associated with poorer sleep quality, a foundational need for physical and mental health and longevity [14].


Mental Health Impacts

  1. Poor mental health can lead to feeling disconnected (e.g., due to withdrawal or reduced capacity for interaction), and loneliness can also negatively impact mental health.

  2. A Risk Factor for Poor Mental Health: Loneliness puts people at greater risk of developing commonmental health conditions, including depression [15].

  3. Higher Incidence of Suicide: Loneliness is predictive of suicide in older populations [16].

  4. Reduced Cognitive Functioning: Loneliness is associated with poorer cognitive function [17].

  5. Cognitive Decline: Loneliness increases the risk of cognitive impairment in older adults and is a risk factor for dementia [18,19].



 

Addressing Loneliness: Treatments and Interventions

Understanding isolation synonymously with a need for human connection can guide effective interventions. Treatments for loneliness often include increasing social interactions and developing deeper, more meaningful relationships. Mental health support and community-building activities are crucial in mitigating the effects of feeling disconnected.



For those interested in contributing to community wellbeing, free mental health first aid courses are available. We offer free mental health training for volunteers in Bristol, Somerset and beyond, on all on all our first aid courses or mental health awareness courses. Mental health first aid training, such as that provided by Mental Health First Aid UK, equips individuals with the skills to support others. There are numerous opportunities for mental health training, including mental health first aiders at work programmes. These initiatives are vital for developing a supportive and connected workplace and community, addressing issues like poor mental health and loneliness head-on.


Finding Support

Many resources are available if you or someone you know is struggling with loneliness. You can find social prescribers in your local area who help connect people to local groups, support networks and information on who can offer professional support such as counselling. To find out more about how to contact your nearest social prescriber, contact your GP. Face-to-face counselling or online counselling sessions can be found on the Counselling Directory, where you can explore various types of counselling and connect with online counsellors. You can also find our more about our services here. Whether you're seeking support for yourself or looking to help others, social support and professional guidance is just a click away.

 


 

 References

  1. Campaign to End Loneliness, The State of Loneliness 2023: ONS Data on loneliness in Britain (2023).

  2. Eisenberger, N. The pain of social disconnection: examining the shared neural underpinnings of physical and social pain. Nat Rev Neurosci 13, 421–434 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3231

  3. A. Shankar, et al. “Social isolation and loneliness: Prospective associations with functional status in older adults.” Health psychology 36.2 (2017) (pp. 179-187), p.179.

  4. Wootton et al., ‘Bidirectional effects between loneliness, smoking and alcohol use’, Addiction 116.2 (2020) (pp.400-406).

  5. DiMatteo, ‘Social Support and Patient Adherence to Medical Treatment: A Meta-Analysis’, Health Psychology 23.2 (2004) (pp.207-218).

  6. Holt-Lunstad, Smith, and Layton, ‘Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review’, PLoS Medicine 7.7 (2010).

  7. J. Holt-Lunstad et al., ‘Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review’, Perspectives on psychological science 10.2 (2015) (pp. 227-237).

  8. Brown, Gallagher and Creaven, ‘Loneliness and acute stress reactivity: A systematic review of psychophysiological studies’, Psychophysiology 55.5 (2018).

  9. Hawkley, et al., ‘Loneliness predicts increased blood pressure: 5-year cross-lagged analyses in middle-aged and older adults’, Psychology and Aging 25.1 (2010), p.132.

  10. Kiecolt-Glaser, et al. ‘Psychosocial modifiers of immunocompetence in medical students’, Psychosom Med 46 (1984) (pp.7-14).

  11. Valtorta et al., ‘Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies’, Heart 102 (2016) (pp. 1009-1016).

  12. Hackett, Hudson and Chilcot, ‘Loneliness and type 2 diabetes incidence: findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing’, Diabetologia 63.11 (2020) (pp.2329-2338).

  13. Henriksen, Nilsen and Strandberg, ‘Loneliness increases the risk of type 2 diabetes: a 20 year follow-up – results from the HUNT study’, Diabetologia 66 (2023) (pp.82-92).

  14. Cacioppo et al., ‘Loneliness and health: Potential mechanisms’, Psychosomatic medicine 64.3 (2002) (pp.407-417).

  15. NHS Digital, Health Survey for England, 2021, Part 2 Loneliness and wellbeing (2023).

  16. O’Connell et al., ‘Recent developments: suicide in older people’, Bmj 329.7471 (2004) (pp.895-899).

  17. Cacioppo and Cacioppo, ‘Older adults reporting social isolation or loneliness show poorer cognitive function 4 years later’, Evidence-based nursing 17.2 (2014) (pp.59-60).

  18. Luchetti et al., ‘Loneliness is associated with risk of cognitive impairment in the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe’, Geriatric Psychiatry 35.7 (2020) (pp.794-801).

  19. Global Council on Brain Health, The brain and social connectedness: GCBH recommendations on social engagement and brain health (2017). Retrieved from www.GlobalCouncilOnBrainHealth.org.

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