People who are socially isolated don’t often have contact with other people and may live alone. It is estimated that around 1 in 5 (19%) older. Australians are socially isolated
Loneliness impacts over five million Australians. Various countries around the world, most notably the UK, have announced sweeping measures to combat what’s termed a “loneliness epidemic” – more people feeling lonely or isolated than ever before. But how harmful is it to be lonely and how is it shaped by your perceptions?
In this study researchers studied these two separate but related phenomena and considered the impact of both factors on lifespan.
After reviewing the available literature, they turned up 90 papers which considered these connections among more than two million people. Some of the papers also looked at more specific questions, such as the links between loneliness and cardiovascular disease or cancer. 29 of the studies were from the United States but there was a good cross-section of countries, mostly developed nations comparable to Australia.
The researchers found that both social isolation and loneliness were linked to increased all-cause death and cancer death.
Social isolation also increased one’s risk of death from cardiovascular disease. The interplay between these two distinct factors – social isolation and loneliness – was a bit less clear.
Some studies show they have a synergistic effect (seemingly combining to increase harmful health outcomes) but here that wasn’t detected. The effects were seen across both sexes, though we also know there are differences in how men and women tend to perceive loneliness and social connection (with women generally tending to be more susceptible to feeling lonely, while having larger social networks than men).