Loneliness and social isolation: What to know and how to help promote social connection

Loneliness and social isolation can lead to a number of negative mental and physical health problems, according to research.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 5:53PM
Loneliness, social isolation reaching crisis levels: surgeon general
Loneliness and social isolation are reaching crisis levels, the surgeon general said.

Social isolation and loneliness are widespread problems in the U.S., posing a serious threat to our mental and physical health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared loneliness and isolation an epidemic and its health impacts have been compared to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

Loneliness and social isolation: What to know and how to help promote social connection

According to data from the CDC, about 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. report feeling lonely and about 1 in 4 U.S. adults report not having social and emotional support.

Loneliness and social isolation can lead to a number of negative mental and physical health problems, according to research, and doctors say it's important to discuss this topic in routine health visits and when managing chronic diseases.

SEE ALSO: Doctors say loneliness and social isolation should be discussed in health visits

Risks of Loneliness and Social Isolation:

  • Increases risk of premature death from all causes

  • Social isolation associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia

  • Social isolation associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke

  • Loneliness associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide

  • Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visit

Individual Risk Factors:

  • Having a mental or physical challenge, such as a: chronic disease or condition, psychiatric or depressive condition, long-term disability

  • Being marginalized or discriminated against

  • Having limited or no access to resources, such as: living in rural areas, limited transportation, language barriers

  • Being a victim of violence or abuse

  • Facing a divorce, unemployment, or the loss of a loved one

SEE ALSO: US surgeon general warns about the dangers of loneliness

Group Risk Factors:

Loneliness may impact some groups more than others, including:

  • Low-income adults

  • Young adults

  • Older adults

  • Adults living alone

  • Immigrants

  • People who identify as LGBTQ+

How to promote social connection

There are plenty of ways to improve social connectedness. According to the CDC, small acts can make a big difference.

We can do simple things like reaching out and checking on one another. There is power in a simple check-in with a friend to let them know you're thinking about them. Even though no official guidelines exist, here is a list of some suggestions.

Commit to Connect is an initiative launched by the U.S. Administration for Community Living to fight social isolation and loneliness by helping people connect and engage to build the social connections they need to thrive.

The AARP Foundation's Connect2Affect invites anyone who may be impacted by social isolation to take a 3-minute assessment to better understand their risk level. At the end of the assessment, helpful information and local recommendations will be provided based on your results.

Local groups and nonprofit organizations are also getting involved in creating environments that foster social connections. Additionally, nursing homes and assisted living communities, grocery stores, doctors' offices and community groups can foster community connectedness.

If you are experiencing suicidal, substance use or other mental health crises please call or text the new three digit code at 988. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also goto 988lifeline.org.

ABC News contributed to this report.