The major health hazard that can no longer be ignored

Danger of loneliness labelled “a serious public health hazard”.

Major health issue can’t be ignored

Loneliness is a major health hazard and can no longer be ignored, according to Dr Michelle Lim, a clinical psychologist and lecturer who is conducting a survey on the health and wellbeing of Australians.

She says society underestimates the danger of loneliness as a serious public health issue and that a lack of social connection poses a similar risk of early death as obesity. She points out that loneliness is also a recognised risk factor for a wide range of physical health issues, from fragmented sleep and dementia to heart problems.

As the Australian Psychological Society (APS) puts a focus on loneliness in National Psychology Week and social media are regularly espoused as enabling social connections, Dr Lim emphasises that the quality of relationships is more important than the quantity.

“The challenge is to address loneliness and focus on building significant bonds with those around us,” she says.

“Researchers have found loneliness is not about the amount of time one spends with other people or alone. It is related more to quality of relationships rather than quantity.

“A lonely person feels that he or she is not understood by others, and may not think they hold meaningful relationships.”

She describes loneliness as little different to hunger, thirst or physical pain, which signal the need to eat, drink or seek medical attention, explaining that from an evolutionary viewpoint, social groups have ensured our survival as a species.

But can social connections banish loneliness?

It’s not that simple, says Dr Lim.

“Generally, ‘lonely’ people are encouraged to join a group or make a new friend, on the assumption that loneliness will then simply go away.

“While creating opportunities to connect with others provides a platform for social interaction, relieving the social pain is not so straightforward.

“Lonely people can have misgivings about social situations and as a result show rejecting behaviours. These can be misconstrued as unfriendliness, and people around the lonely person respond accordingly. This is how loneliness can become a persistent cycle.”

So how best to tackle loneliness?

Treatments that focused on changing negative thinking about others were more effective than those encouraging social interaction, according to studies.

Another strategy was to improve the quality of our relationships, specifically by building intimacy with those around us.

“Indeed, even individuals who have been diagnosed with serious mental illness have reported improvements in their wellbeing and relationships after sharing positive emotions and doing more positive activities with others,” says Dr Lim. “However, research using a positive psychology approach to loneliness remains in its infancy.”

Dr Lim says the growing scientific evidence highlighting the negative consequences of loneliness for physical and mental health can no longer be ignored. Take part in her study here.

Do you think loneliness is a major health problem? Have you ever felt lonely? What have you done to tackle loneliness?

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    Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.





    COMMENTS

    To make a comment, please register or login
    tisme
    16th Nov 2018
    10:52am
    its okay saying " join a group " that is so much easier said than done
    pedro the swift
    16th Nov 2018
    10:56am
    Get a pet dog, or cat, or budgie etc.!
    Star Trekker
    16th Nov 2018
    12:13pm
    too bad if you are allergic.
    Triss
    16th Nov 2018
    11:49am
    That’s why it’s better to focus on your interests or hobbies. Look around and you’ll find people or a group that will be on the same wavelength and have enough in common to make long-time friends.
    Jennie
    16th Nov 2018
    12:06pm
    There is a difference between loneliness (negative) and solitude (positive). I live in a retirement apartment and long for solitude. As an introvert I don't cope with too many people in my face. The greatest problem is with the disproportionate number of narcissists in this place. I have never encountered so much spite in my whole life as I have encountered here. It is a nightmare. Oh not to be around people! Thank goodness for my dogs. Without them I think I would be in a psychiatric hospital with severe depression.
    BERRYUPSET
    16th Nov 2018
    12:42pm
    Hi Jennie!Love your loneliness/solitude comments!
    I too live on my own.....I rent nice apartment opp a beautiful lake with many species of birds for close company PLUS great occasional neighbours.
    The ocean is very close and I never crave for company I am an artist so paint many days keep good friends with my body and thoughts.I do yoga swim cycle walk so keep occupied!
    i find OTHER PEOPLE and their `attitudes quite invasive !
    Maybe i should have been a MONK or Mountain man!!1(ha ha ha)
    I can HONESTLY say I AM EXTREMELY HAPPY WITH MY SITUATION!
    BEST WISHES
    AL
    BERRYUPSET
    16th Nov 2018
    12:42pm
    Hi Jennie!Love your loneliness/solitude comments!
    I too live on my own.....I rent nice apartment opp a beautiful lake with many species of birds for close company PLUS great occasional neighbours.
    The ocean is very close and I never crave for company I am an artist so paint many days keep good friends with my body and thoughts.I do yoga swim cycle walk so keep occupied!
    i find OTHER PEOPLE and their `attitudes quite invasive !
    Maybe i should have been a MONK or Mountain man!!1(ha ha ha)
    I can HONESTLY say I AM EXTREMELY HAPPY WITH MY SITUATION!
    BEST WISHES
    AL
    Jennie
    16th Nov 2018
    1:01pm
    Dear Berry
    I think you are my friend! We have much in common, but will have to remain apart :-)
    I am an artist too. That certainly helps.
    Old Geezer
    16th Nov 2018
    2:28pm
    I wish I had more hours in the day so I could be lonely. Oh for more time just for me.
    GeorgeM
    16th Nov 2018
    10:58pm
    Rabid feminists and anti-marriage interest groups have a lot to answer for!
    Maybe marriage should be recommended by such psychologists, but of course only to non-feminist types otherwise that may be worse than not being married.
    PlanB
    17th Nov 2018
    9:24am
    I love my own company and have never been one for joining get together clubs -- I have some friends that I may not see from one year to the next but we pick up from where we left off -- plus when you get to an older age -- many of your Friends are no longer alive -- I love peace and solitude -- I don't even have the radio on through the day.

    I also have never been into attending weddings and such --

    I love Nature/gardening/and used to love walking/kayaking etc but unable to do that these days


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