Elderly using Social Media to Reduce Loneliness

The loneliness epidemic: We’re more connected than ever – but are we feeling more alone?

Modern life is making us lonelier, and recent research indicates that this may be the next biggest public health issue on par with obesity and substance abuse.  A recent review of studies indicates that loneliness increases mortality risk by 26%.

woman-looking-out-window1Loneliness is an increasing problem in modern life. The Church Urban Fund and the Church of England found a rise of 10 per cent in the last three years in clergy members who felt that social isolation was a major problem in their local area. Another survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that in the UK one in ten of us feels lonely often and 48 per cent of people think we are getting lonelier in general. Britain has even been voted the loneliness capital of Europe.

So why are we getting lonelier? Changes in modern society are considered to be the cause. We live in nuclear family units, often living large distances away from our extended family and friends, and our growing reliance on social technology rather than face to face interaction is thought to be making us feel more isolated. It means we feel less connected to others and our relationships are becoming more superficial and less rewarding.

We are social animals and need to feel that we “belong” to others and feel connected to one another. Social pain is as real a sensation for us as physical pain; researchers have shown that loneliness and rejection activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain.

14 ways social isolationLoneliness affects all of us at some point in our lives. Relocating to a new area, losing a loved one, and starting a course at university are all key times when people feel lonely. Research suggests that this experience of loneliness is useful to us as it motivates us to reconnect with others and to seek out new friendships to reduce the “social pain” that we feel. But for some, when reconnection is not easy or not possible, if a person is socially isolated, people can remain in this uncomfortable loneliness state for a number of years. Reports vary but typical numbers of people experiencing loneliness in this prolonged way range from three to 30 per cent.

For those that experience loneliness for a long time, research has shown that this impacts on their health in a greater way than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese. Loneliness has also been linked to poor mental health. In a survey by Mental Health Foundation, more than a third of people surveyed had felt depressed as a result of feeling lonely.

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