Loneliness, Social Isolation Associated with Increased Risk for Early Mortality

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Loneliness, Social Isolation Associated with Increased Risk for Early Mortality

By Meghan Ross

Sad girlLiving alone and feelings of isolation and loneliness were associated with an increased risk for early death in a new study, which was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Social interaction, the researchers posited, may benefit not only individuals’ emotional well-being but also their physical health.

The researchers pointed to previous research that has shown social isolation and loneliness to be associated with poorer health behaviors (e.g., smoking, inactivity, bad sleep habits), worse immune functioning, and higher blood pressure.

In their own research, the study authors examined published and unpublished studies related to mortality and social relationships; they specifically looked for whether the individuals involved in the studies felt lonely or isolated, or they lived alone. The 70 studies that met their criteria encompassed almost 3.5 million individuals.

The researchers found that these 3 factors, whether measured objectively or subjectively, were associated with a higher chance of mortality. The increased likelihood of death was 32% for living alone, 29% for social isolation, and 26% for reported loneliness, after accounting for several covariates, according to the researchers.

Causation could not be proved, but the study authors found that people with these 3 factors were more likely to be deceased at a follow-up, regardless of age, wealth, and length of follow-up.

The researchers posited that there is evidence now that the risk for mortality due to a lack of social relationships may be greater than the risk due to obesity.

They found that while some individuals may prefer to live alone and find that it has its advantages, improving one’s physical health would not be one of those advantages.

“[T]he field now has much stronger evidence that lacking social connections is detrimental to physical health,” the study authors concluded.


If you are looking to breakthrough loneliness and feelings of isolation, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Early Mortality

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Loneliness and social isolation linked to early mortality

By James McIntosh (from Medical News Today)

There are a number of health and lifestyle factors – obesity, smoking, air pollution – that are known to be risk factors for early mortality and receive considerable attention. New research has suggested that social connections should be added to this list, with a study finding loneliness and social isolation to be risk factors for all ages.

Psychologists from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, discovered in a meta-analysis that loneliness and social isolation better predicted premature death among populations aged less than 65 years, despite older people being more likely to be lonely and having a higher mortality risk overall.

“The effect of this is comparable to obesity, something that public health takes very seriously,” says lead author Julianne Holt-Lunstad. “We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”

Previous research has demonstrated that social connections can have a positive influence on physical well-being as well as psychological and emotional well-being. Until now, no meta-analysis had been conducted where the effect of social isolation and loneliness on mortality has been the focus.

Although the two terms sound similar, loneliness and social isolation can be very different in appearance. An individual who is surrounded by lots of other people can still feel lonely while some people prefer to be alone and foster isolation from others.

Despite these differences, however, the study found that the effects on premature mortality were the same for both loneliness and social isolation.

Researchers predict a ‘loneliness epidemic’ in the future

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 70 studies conducted between 1980 and 2014, featuring a total of over 3 million participants. The data included information regarding loneliness, social isolation and living alone.

After controlling for variables such as age, gender, socioeconomic status and pre-existing health conditions, the researchers found that social isolation was linked to an increased risk of premature mortality. Conversely, the presence of social relationships was found to have a positive influence on health.

The study did, however, utilize data from a narrow range of ages, with the majority of the data coming from older adults. The authors acknowledge that less than a quarter of the studies analyzed involved people with an average age of 59 or younger, and only 9% of studies involved participants younger than 50 at intake.

The researchers state that the effects on physical health caused by loneliness and social isolation are comparable to those caused by obesity, with current evidence indicating “that heightened risk for mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity.” They write:

“The current status of research on the risks of loneliness and social isolation is similar to that of research on obesity 3 decades ago – although further research on causal pathways is needed, researchers now know both the level of risk and the social trends suggestive of even greater risk in the future.”

Due to advances in technology and the evolution of the Internet, it may seem as though people are closer together than ever before. However, the number of people feeling lonely appears to be on the rise.

“Not only are we at the highest recorded rate of living alone across the entire century, but we’re at the highest recorded rates ever on the planet,” says co-author Tim Smith. “With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future.”

Despite the limitations of the study, the authors believe that their findings justify raising a warning about increasing rates of social isolation.

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study that found extreme loneliness can increase an older person’s risk of premature death by 14%.

5 Myths and Truths in Loneliness

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Excerpt from 5 Myths and Truths in Loneliness

By Gary Barnes & Darrell Bock

InfidelityHaving been an ordained minister for 32 years and licensed psychologist for 18, I (Gary Barnes) have had the privilege of being entrusted with many personal stories of loneliness. As individuals from all walks of life have opened up with their struggles, I’ve been deeply affected from two different directions. From a psychological perspective, I’ve been struck by the depth of pain humans encounter in their experience of loneliness. And from a theological perspective, I’ve been amazed at how significant human loneliness is to the triune God…

Here are five popular myths that heighten loneliness for us all.

Myth #1: Loneliness is a result of something bad, and therefore no one should have to experience it.

Truth #1: Even before sin entered human experience, God described loneliness as “not good,” yet he used it to bring about a greater good.

Aloneness isn’t just important to our triune God; it’s central to his design for our dealings with each other and with him. Nor is loneliness simply a result of personal choices or the world’s groaning under sin. Before the fall in Genesis 3, God proclaims, “It is not good for man to be alone” even as he evaluates his sin-free world. In infinite wisdom, then, God created a perfect human being incomplete on purpose.

In his book Fill These Hearts, Christopher West refers to this as a “burning yearning” desire meant to drive us to God’s design so we’d experience our eternal destiny with him: “The yearning of eros reveals that we are incomplete, and that we are in search of another to make ‘sense’ of ourselves.” In Genesis 2 God ordains the marriage of male and female as another aspect of his design for our aloneness. Yet he never designed marriage to fulfill the incompleteness or eradicate the aloneness. Rather, it more fully reveals our need for our ultimate destiny-to be in union with him.

Myth #2: Loneliness is a result of singleness, a second-class transitional stage of life on the way to the first-class state of marriage.

Truth #2: Loneliness isn’t a result of singleness. Single and married are equal and necessary image bearers of God. Blessings of fullness and contentment (though not full completeness) are to be experienced in both states.

Neither marriage nor singleness should be deified or deprecated. Marriage and singleness reflect the love of God in different and necessary ways. While spouses reflect the exclusive nature of God’s love, singles in community reflect its inclusive nature. We don’t exist as isolated inviduals. Sexuality and bonding are part of relationships this is why many people use sexual intimacy assisters like videos found on sex tube sites to help spouses discover fresh ways to express their love for each other. As Stanley Grenz explains in Sexual Ethics:

This relationship between sexuality and bonding is present in single existence as well, even though the sex act as the “sacrament” of the bond is absent. . . . Single Christians, therefore, who because of their abstinence from genital sexual expression are often in touch with their affective sexuality, have a unique ministry of love to offer in service to the Lord within the fellowship of the community of Christ.

Myth #3: We can avoid loneliness by getting married.

Truth #3: Loneliness can be equally experienced in singleness or marriage. In fact, many can feel more alone in their marriage than they did in their singleness.

Even a great sense of satisfaction in marriage or singleness will reveal remaining unsatisfaction. As Augustine reminds us in his famous prayer, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” We have a God-wired incompleteness only he can fill. Yet sin causes us to exacerbate our loneliness and dissatisfaction by trying to fill this God-shaped vacuum with substitutes.

Psychological research yields “discovered truths” confirming this “revealed truth.” In Evidence Based Practices for Christian Counseling and Psychotherapy, which examines the outcomes in individuals and relationships, Scott Stanley and I (Gary Barnes) report on more than 30 years of scholarship in the field of marital health and success. The two primary variables considered are stability and satisfaction. Those in the stable and satisfied group are aiming to help each other grow and to protect “differentiated unity” or “oneness not based in sameness.” In other words, outcomes aren’t so much about finding the right person as they are about being the right person who makes right choices over time.

Myth #4: Loneliness can be avoided by meeting my sexual needs.

Truth #4: Trying to meet non-sexual needs sexually will heighten loneliness. Only when we meet our non-sexual needs in non-sexual ways will we begin to adequately address our loneliness.

Healthy sexual intimacy requires many intentional healthy non-sexual choices. Sexual activity alone will never fulfill our emotional or spiritual needs.

In his book Soul Virgins, Doug Rosenau defines a soul virgin as “one who continuously seeks to value, celebrate, and protect God’s design for sexuality-body, soul, and spirit-in oneself and others.” The goal should be to build a Christlike character that seeks sexual wholeness and celebrates deep, fulfilling intimacy appropriate to each type of relationship. Along the journey, non-sexual needs must be met non-sexually.

Myth #5: Limiting my freedom will increase my loneliness.

Truth #5: Trying to preserve freedoms will heighten loneliness. In fact, having fewer choices decreases loneliness. The paradoxical truth is this: “In choosing to have less, you choose to have more.”

Christians agree that we are called to love as God does. We love with benevolent power rather than self-serving power. We love as whole people, as male and female, as single or married. And God showcases this benevolent love in the person, work, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Stanley and I (Barnes) show that one of the key predictor variables for satisfaction and stability in marital relationships is “dedication commitment” in contrast to “constraint commitment.” In “constraint commitment,” couples stay together because of what it would cost them to split up. In “dedication commitment,” couples remain together because of personal sacrifices for the sake of “us.” Self-limiting choices are more closely associated with greater stability and satisfaction.

If we’re not careful, our pursuit of satisfaction and avoidance of loneliness will lead us to treat others as things created for our sake, not as persons created for God’s sake. The solution isn’t found in more self-indulgent liberties, but in limiting ourselves with the compelling love of “the great mystery”-the sacrificial love displayed in Christ’s union with the church (Eph. 5:31–32).