Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Loneliness Is Deadly


Social isolation kills more people than obesity does—and it’s just as stigmatized.
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Loneliness is not just making us sick, it is killing us. Loneliness is a serious health risk. Studies of elderly people and social isolation concluded that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely.
The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity.

Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Loneliness is breaking our hearts, but as a culture we rarely talk about it.

Loneliness has doubled: 40 percent of adults in two recent surveys said they were lonely, up from 20 percent in the 1980s.

All of our Internet interactions aren’t helping and may be making loneliness worse. A recent study of Facebook users found that the amount of time you spend on the social network is inversely related to how happy you feel throughout the day.
In a society that judges you based on how expansive your social networks appear, loneliness is difficult to fess up to. It feels shameful.

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After the public learned of Stephen Fry’s suicide attempt last year, the beloved British actor wrote a blog post about his fight with depression. He cited loneliness as the worst part of his affliction.

Lonely? I get invitation cards through the post almost every day. I shall be in the Royal Box at Wimbledon and I have serious and generous offers from friends asking me to join them in the South of France, Italy, Sicily, South Africa, British Columbia, and America this summer. I have two months to start a book before I go off to Broadway for a run of Twelfth Night there.

I can read back that last sentence and see that, bipolar or not, if I’m under treatment and not actually depressed, what the fuck right do I have to be lonely, unhappy, or forlorn? I don’t have the right. But there again I don’t have the right not to have those feelings. Feelings are not something to which one does or does not have rights.
In the end loneliness is the most terrible and contradictory of my problems.

Most of us know what it is like to be lonely in a room full of people, which is the same reason even a celebrity can be deeply lonely. You could be surrounded by hundreds of adoring fans, but if there is no one you can rely on, no one who knows you, you will feel isolated.

In terms of human interactions, the number of people we know is not the best measure. In order to be socially satisfied, we don’t need all that many people. According to Cacioppo the key is in the quality, not the quantity of those people. We just need several on whom we can depend and who depend on us in return.

As a culture we obsess over strategies to prevent obesity. We provide resources to help people quit smoking. But I have never had a doctor ask me how much meaningful social interaction I am getting. Even if a doctor did ask, it is not as though there is a prescription for meaningful social interaction.
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When we are lonely, we lose impulse control and engage in what scientists call “social evasion.” We become less concerned with interactions and more concerned with self-preservation, as I was when I couldn’t even imagine trying to talk to another human. Evolutionary psychologists speculate that loneliness triggers our basic, fight vs. flight survival mechanisms, and we stick to the periphery, away from people we do not know if we can trust. 


Author / Source [Full Article]: Jessica Olien for Slate 

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