Loneliness and social isolation are damaging our health, both mentally and physically. Being cut off from social interaction is not only a problem for the elderly but also younger people, and the impact it has on our bodies is thought to be equivalent to smoking over a dozen cigarettes a day.
The effects of loneliness are being highlighted in the UK after a commission, formed by the late MP Jo Cox who was murdered last year in her constituency, has called on the government to do more to tackle the problem. The commission has published a report detailing that in the UK alone, a staggering 9 million people are suffering from loneliness, and this is having a tangible and physical impact on them.
Being cut off from the outside world unsurprisingly makes individuals more prone to depression, and can be used as a predictor of suicide in older age. The lack of mental stimulation also means that lonely people are 64 percent more likely to develop dementia, and are in general at greater risk of cognitive decline.
Yet loneliness does not only impact a person’s mental health, it can affect their physical health too. Loneliness has been found to increase the chance of mortality by 26 percent, as well as increasing the risk of high blood pressure and obesity. In fact, it has now been shown that the impact a lack of social connections has on your health is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Only a few months ago, doctors were warning that loneliness can be as bad for a person’s health as living with a long-term serious illness such as diabetes. As a result, it means that patients who are isolated are more likely to visit the doctor, in part just to have human contact, and more likely to be placed on medication as a consequence. This is also adding pressure to the health service, which is already suffering.
“Tackling loneliness is a generational challenge that can only be met by concerted action by everyone – governments, employers, businesses, civil society organisations, families, communities and individuals all have a role to play,” the report says. “Working together we can make a difference.”
The report calls on the UK government to do more to tackle loneliness, and has been published to coincide with a push to encourage volunteers to help reduce isolation in all parts of the community.