Did you know that there’s a difference between being alone and feeling lonely? You may be alone but have a strong social network that helps you feel connected. Loneliness can happen when you don’t feel a sense of belonging and or have someone to call on for help.
According to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation article, life changes, such as having a baby, moving somewhere new, or having financial difficulties, often result in social isolation. Many people feel disconnected because of their race, ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Immigrants, people with disabilities or substance use disorders, and those who live in rural areas may be at greater risk for loneliness. Even young adults, despite their many friends via online social channels, develop loneliness.
Health effects of isolation
Social isolation can lead to health issues such as anxiety, depression, substance use disorders and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, it can foster unhealthy habits, lead to increased stress, lack of sleep and increase the risk for coronary heart disease and stroke.
Studies have shown that aging adults whose spouse or partner has died, are separated from family and friends, retired, unable to be mobile or have no transportation are at a higher risk for health issues. Conversely, those who live alone but engage in productive activities with others live longer and enjoy better health. With increased awareness, we can approach people with a greater understanding of the importance of being socially connected.
Community is vital to our well-being. When we form communities with family, friends and co-workers, we are able to support one another and share experiences as well as struggles. We have a greater sense of purpose and belonging as part of a community. And this, in turn, makes us feel safe and secure, positively impacting our health. When we lack a strong community, we struggle to find support. We are more likely to suffer from loneliness and isolation, which can lead to poorer health outcomes. Lack of community can also decrease willpower and resilience and lead to unhealthy behaviors. It’s easy to see how community connections are a fundamental part of living a full and healthy life.