The Costs of Lonliness

Most people are aware of some discomfort during periods in which they are alone or feel lonely. Since aloneness has not been classified as a medical condition, it is rarely considered a physical threat. Yet, multiple studies have highlighted the health consequences of social isolation and the detrimental medical and psychological outcomes. How can we raise awareness about the emotional suffering of those who are lonely and extend ourselves to ease their pain?

A September 16, 2017 article in The New York Times titled “Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness” stated, “Researchers have found mounting evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and to functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity.”

Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco who studied 1604 older adults found that 43 percent reported feeling lonely. She concluded, “It is no longer medically or ethically acceptable to ignore older adults who feel lonely and marginalized.”

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, whose research findings linked loneliness to deteriorating health stated, “In the U.S., there isn’t much recognition in terms of public health initiatives or the average person recognizing that loneliness has to do with health.”

Women are more prone to seek companionship than men. Perhaps the male emphasis on autonomy, self-sufficiency and independence hinders some men from recognizing their need for comradery that limits their socializing with other men. Undermining the social and psychological benefits of male connectedness may restrict some from actively seeking the companionship of other males, unless it is associated with specific recreational activities.

Society often views aloneness for men as a symbol of competence and self-sufficiency. Some men are bewildered by their wives’ frequent need to socialize with their female friends. Others may mock this propensity as an immature attachment, females’ excessive verbiage or gossiping. For other males, being taciturn is viewed as a form of manhood exemplified by verbal self-containment. Yet, men can feel lonely as well. Their socializing events are often associated with accomplishing tasks: hunting, fishing, playing cards, book discussions, fixing cars or attending an athletic event together. Having an external focus helps men feel more easily bonded through their shared interests. It also reduces any anxiety about conversations that may or may not be comfortable to share.

Both genders experience connectedness in different ways. Women find conversations, self-disclosures and even gossip to be a bonding experience, while men may connect through tasks or participating in or viewing athletic activities. Whatever helps one feel a sense of belonging with another is acceptable. The connection that is created through words, actions or accomplishments is essential in receiving the support and validation needed for the maintenance of one’s self-worth. It braces humans against fear, aloneness and estrangement from others.

Avoid isolation for your health:

  • Accept that aloneness and loneliness may safeguard your individuality but will cause isolation and self-doubt.
  • Reach out to those who are alone – human connection and kindness safeguards everyone’s health and wellbeing.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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