May will bring Mental Health Awareness Month. Two of the most prevalent conditions in society today that affect mental health are social isolation and loneliness.
In his book Them, Ben Sasse talks about 739 people dying in one week during a heat wave in Chicago. But race and poverty did not determine who lived and who died. Instead, it was social relationships. Isolation turned something dangerous into something deadly.
The UnLonely Project has the goal of broadening public awareness of the negative physical and mental health consequences of loneliness while using the creative arts to address them. The Project finds there is an epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the U.S. with these effects:
- Loneliness affects more than one-third of American adults, with particular likelihood among individuals facing challenging life circumstances like loss of a loved one, and chronic or catastrophic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, mental illness or cancer.
- Loneliness has negative effects on mental health, worsening depression, anxiety, mood disorders and cognitive decline, and on physical health, leading to higher rates cardiovascular impairment, chronic pain, and fatigue.
- Certain age groups, notably adolescents, young adults and older adults seem to be particularly at risk as marked by growing incidence of depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
- External factors may be accelerating the crisis; research indicates, for instance, Internet and social media engagement exacerbate feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
- Of particular note, health risks associated with loneliness and social isolation are comparable to the dangers of smoking and obesity, increasing mortality risk by up to 30%.
Verywell Mind, an online resource to help improve mental health, says that loneliness is actually a state of mind that causes people to feel empty, alone, and unwanted. What helps? It’s not the quantity of social interaction that combats loneliness but the quality. The number of people with no close friends has tripled in the past 35 years. Having just three or four close friends is enough to ward off loneliness (Verywell Mind, https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749).
So how about if each of us looks for someone isolated/lonely to befriend? We won’t have to look far. They are in our families, neighborhood, places of worship, schools, and elderly facilities. For a small investment of time, we can make a huge difference in the life of someone who feels that no one cares about them.
Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director