Self

Whether Or Not It's Actually Possible To Die From Loneliness

Photo: Getty Images via Canva
lonely woman looking out a window

At some point in life, we all experience loneliness.

Whether you’ve just come out of a relationship, moved somewhere where you know no one, feel isolated within your friend group, or are just struggling to connect with people, loneliness does not discriminate.

This sensation is unpleasant and puts people in a negative headspace. But is loneliness actually deadly?

RELATED: 5 Ways To Deal With Loneliness (& Start Making Genuine Connections)

Can you die from loneliness?

Unsurprisingly, this phenomenon is well-researched by psychologists and scientists, and these studies have some interesting results that connect feelings of isolation with lower life expectancies and increased health risks.

Researchers with the Indian Psychiatric Society found that loneliness is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, making lonely people 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships.

The AARP put out a national survey of the 45+ population to examine the epidemic of loneliness, and found that over one-third of people surveyed were categorized as lonely and of that one-third, 55% rated their health as poor.

This is a growing epidemic that’s impacting an ever-increasing number of people. So while loneliness itself isn't deadly, the lack of socialization can increase the risk of premature death.

Does loneliness mean being alone?

Loneliness does not mean being alone. Some solitude is good for you, and people who choose to spend time alone are not necessarily lonely. Equally, spending lots of time around people doesn’t mean you don’t experience loneliness.

The difference between loneliness and being alone is that loneliness is a feeling rather than a physical state, while being alone must be a choice in order for it to be healthy.

If someone wants companionship and support but lacks social interaction that provides this, they are likely to experience the emotional and physical effects of loneliness.

7 Ways Loneliness Harms You

How are we being affected by loneliness, and what does this mean for our health? Here are a few things to keep in mind about loneliness and the negative health effects it has on our lives.

1. Loneliness has negative effects on mental health.

Isolation and loneliness have damaging mental health effects, leading to suicide ideation and depression.

Lacking social support, people who suffer from loneliness often become trapped in negative states of mind. This can also lead to physical health implications.

In a University of Chicago study of men and women 50 to 68 years old, those who scored highest on measures of loneliness also had higher blood pressure. Their blood pressure readings were as much as 30 points higher than non-lonely people.

This increases the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US. Social isolation puts people at risk of experiencing sudden death.

2. Loneliness makes us feel like failures.

Of course, there is a common misconception that it's only older people who experience the lethal effects of loneliness. But young people are at risk, too.

A 2015 review study published in "Perspectives in Psychological Science" compared the findings of 70 scientific publications that included over 3 million participants, and found that loneliness had particularly damaging effects on people under the age of 65.

In the game of life, being alone or lonely is considered a failure of some sort. The study examined how loneliness can be a source of shame for younger people, a stigma that only worsens the effects of social isolation.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Connect With People When You’re Feeling Isolated & Lonely

3. Loneliness increases isolation.

How, in a world where we can communicate with millions from our phones, is loneliness an increasing problem? Interestingly, it's this very technology that's impacting our social interactions negatively.

The same review study found that "social isolation on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality." This is because we lack the social connectedness that comes with social contact. So we feel lonely because we no longer have that camaraderie.

Technology changes the way we relate to each other and takes the intimacy out of our social interactions. It might seem counterintuitive, but social media can be a leading cause in social isolation, particularly among young adults.

One study found that people who visited social media platforms 58 visits per week or more, had more than three times the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than 9 times per week.

4. Relationship quality lowers.

Quality matters more than quantity in relationships. Modern life might make it easy to connect with as many people as possible, but these connections are often fickle and don’t give us the support we crave.

It’s far more beneficial to have a few close friends than it is to have hundreds of acquaintances. Taking time to build bonds by hanging out with friends in person, joining a sports team, or volunteering with a social group will do more for you than group chats and Facebook posts ever could.

A study done over a decade ago actually found that those with strong relationships were 50% more likely to live a long life, meaning those without high-quality relationships are more likely to die young.

5. The risk of Alzheimer's disease increases.

Research published in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" found that out of the 823 participants, 76 had developed clinical Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers determined that the risk of Alzheimer's was more than double in lonely persons who scored a 3.2, landing them in the 90th percentile, compared with persons who were not lonely with a score of 1.4, on a 5-point scale.

Midlife ages between 45-64 are at an increased risk to develop Alzheimer's from loneliness. However, those who recover from loneliness are less likely to develop the disease.

6. Loneliness lowers the immune system.

Loneliness leaves us defenseless to germs and diseases. This is because we are not constantly exposed to the everyday germs of interacting with people.

This causes our immune system to slack off, since there is nothing to fight off. It directly lowers our immunity to everyday illnesses like the common cold, the flu, and sinus bacteria.

7. Loneliness makes stress even worse.

When you are lonely, you have no one to help you through the stress and obstacles that come with everyday life. This makes stress even more difficult to handle than normal.

You have no buffer to vent to, talk things through, or help figure out a solution, or way to relieve the stress. It's just one example of how social connections truly are important in life.

RELATED: The 7 Types Of Loneliness (And Why It Matters)

Alice Kelly is a senior news and entertainment editor for YourTango. Based out of Brooklyn, New York, her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest. Keep up with her on Twitter for more.

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