You’re Not Alone in Feeling Lonely
Updated: Jun 23
Pandemic Makes Bad Times Feel Worse
Loneliness may be one of the most critical oxymoronic issues of our time because so many people aren’t alone in feeling lonely.
In an era when the world is more connected than ever before and where numerous social media platforms exist, a report by Harvard University reveals 36% of all Americans—including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel “serious loneliness.” Additionally, Pew Research Survey found that of the one-quarter of people over age 60 who live alone, more than 43% of them reported feeling lonely.
The feeling certainly isn’t new; loneliness was first defined in the 1600s. In 1978, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles began measuring it by designing the UCLA Loneliness Scale; in 2018, in partnership with Ipsos, Cigna further enhanced this standard scale to create the Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index.
This long history, coupled with the restrictions, social distancing, and lockdowns imposed with COVID-19, have exacerbated the issue to spawn what many experts now deem a loneliness epidemic. Much more than just “feeling blue,” loneliness impacts mental and physical health.
Consequences of being lonely
Because loneliness is a universal human emotion, it is natural to see links between being lonely and the effects on mental health. For years, researchers have found that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of:
Decreased problem-solving skills
Scientists have also found that loneliness can significantly impact physical health, with consequences for all age groups. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, found that loneliness can be as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Other issues may include:
Weakened immune system
Reduced physical activity
Under-nutrition (especially among older people)
High blood pressure
Type 2 diabetes
Increased risk of addiction (food, drugs, alcohol)
Years before the pandemic forced many people apart, researchers at UCLA in 2015 discovered that social isolation and loneliness impact humans at one of the deepest physical levels: triggering cellular changes that result in chronic inflammation and predisposing people to metastatic cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
People may have short periods of feeling lonely, but the feeling can go on for the long term or become chronic for others. Here are some signs of more serious loneliness:
Spends a lot of time alone.
Declines invitations to be with other people.
Does not have close friends.
Has an inability to connect with others on a deeper, more intimate level.
Gets stuck on negatives and bad experiences.
Expresses feelings of self-doubt or negative self-worth.
Has overwhelming feelings of isolation, even if others are around.
Struggles to be productive, loses interest in work, or begins missing important meetings or deadlines.
Seems distracted or overly preoccupied with possessions or hobbies.
Increased consumption and spending too much money on unnecessary things.
Frequently appears to be ill, tired, or burnt out.
How Bridgewell Medical helps
Some of the most adored celebrities, with thousands of fans chanting their name, have publicly expressed their bouts of loneliness. This example shows that it doesn’t matter how many people you have around you or how many “friends” or “followers” you’ve racked up on social media; combating loneliness is accomplished by making personal connections.
At Bridgewell Medical, we hire, train, and deploy clinical pharmacists in the communities we serve. Our experts are your neighbors, and our medication management teams develop relationships to provide the highest quality medication therapy management (MTM) services to patients and improve their lives overall. We don’t just check the box by making calls; our patient care advocates and clinical pharmacists make in-home patient visits.
This face-to-face interaction goes beyond building trust and promoting open communication; it also facilitates the evaluation of relevant social determinants of health that may be interfering with a patient’s ability to attain optimal health. Working together with providers, Bridgewell staff can close care gaps, and help reduce loneliness and the impacts that emotion has on mental and physical health.
In addition to being there for patients who need us the most, the bonus to providers and health plans is that this high-touch interaction also helps reduce avoidable and costly healthcare utilization.