Loneliness can make you sick

Why, when we have so much around us, are people becoming so lonely that it makes them ill?

Two studies, undertaken independently of each other, were published on Monday. One showed that living alone increased risk of heart disease and death. The other showed that loneliness increased risk of death and functional decline.

Now, living alone does not necessarily mean that you are lonely. Lots of people choose to live alone because they enjoy the peace and quiet of having their own space. Many more, however, do not choose to be alone, and for these people loneliness is a real issue.

Before now loneliness was mostly seen as a social issue. These studies have shown that living alone can cause medical problems which are putting financial stress on the health care system. Now that there is money involved, it seems likely that the powers that be will take action to try and reduce people’s feelings of loneliness. Those most likely to be affected are Australians over 75, one third of who are living alone.

But why, when we have so much around us, are people becoming so lonely that it makes them ill? Until recently it was common practice for families to stay together. There could be up to four generations living under one roof. Nowadays in Australia this is rarely the case. So why have we tossed aside a system which brought us together?

Assuming we can’t change the world in a few weeks, what else can you do if you are feeling lonely or isolated? Research has shown that getting involved with social media can help you to feel more connected and happier. Perhaps the answer lies in Facebook after all. You don’t have to connect with the people you know – you can use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs to link up with common-interest groups, whether they are for a hobby, a television series you enjoy, or for learning and practicing foreign languages.

Loneliness is a health risk, so try to get out and interact with people on a daily basis. Join a book club, volunteer at a community organisation, or just log on to Facebook. It’s like taking a vitamin pill for the soul.

More information
To find out more read the news article Living alone causes health risks.

Have your say
Do you think that loneliness is down to the individual to fix, or should family and friends be stepping in? If you live alone have you ever considered living with a friend to share rent and company? And do you really think loneliness can make you sick?


    To make a comment, please register or login
    Nan Norma
    20th Jun 2012
    Sometimes a person just needs the help of family and friends to give them the opportunity, and the encouragement, to meet other people in the way of social groups. When a person retires they are suddenly faced with hours to spare without the company of workmates they may had for years. Or it way be that as part of a couple they never felt the need to reach out to other people.
    It has been proven that people with an active social life are healthier. There can be nothing worse than having no reason to get out of bed in the morning.
    Of course there are many younger people suffering loneliness too. And that also is tragic.
    20th Jun 2012
    The baby-boomers have nigh well lived in utopian times [except for the Vietnam & Afghanistan vets]. Then one Germaine Greer turned western societies on their heads with a vigorous strong female liberation movement - this led to the key social word that us middle term [60-70] oldies became locked into = independence. And that is how many tend to live their lives nowadays. Plus not being in a relationship has assisted in spurning the online dating mechanism on which there are hundreds of thousands all looking for that 'soul mate'. I am in that category and as I have only one son I often wonder what will happen to my singular lifestyle further down the track. I was intensely social but declining physical health has closed down previous quite active pursuits. Although I now enjoy that capability to choose what I want to do whenever I want to do it there is also that occasional longing to share with a partner. To wrap this up I cant say that there is any one solution except that societal lifestyles are constantly changing and future generations will be different again.
    Nan Norma
    20th Jun 2012
    Yes, everybody wants to feel they are special to one person. Many years ago I asked a 86 yr friend of mine what it was like to be old. She said the worst part was losing your friends to old age. I find that very sad.
    20th Jun 2012
    I never thought I would be as lonely as I am. My husband died 6 years ago and the friends we had then have just about faded away. There were platitudes made about "if ever I need any help, etc" and I did ask a couple of times, but further offers were not forthcoming. Now I am very sick too and I just find it very, very hard to accept that no-one actually cares. The thing I miss more than anything is just not having anyone to swap small talk with, for example, pointing out something on TV or discussing the news or even The Weather! I'm honestly glad I won't have too many years left to feel sad.
    20th Jun 2012
    I feel sad for you bilby because I've been as lonely as you and it's a place quite difficult to get out of.
    Loneliness does make you sick and my GP referred me to the Local Health Network's Mental Health Team and a lovely lady visited me, initially twice a week, and listened to me. With her help I found the strength to join U3A and I started doing courses; art, meditation for women and creative writing, which took me to a different part of me where I was no longer thinking sad thoughts. The meditation course lasted just one term but from that came a Wednesday morning tea group which has grown and become a delightful group of ladies who sit and chat, invariable over each other, for a good 1 1/2 hrs and for the rest of the week keep in touch by phone, visit or email. I also went 'back' to church and that fulfilled my spiritual needs.. of the time.
    Can you speak to your GP about how you feel? It's awful that you are suffering in silence. Do seek help so that you can help yourself.
    20th Jun 2012
    Being married to the love of my life for nearly fifty years, the prospect of him going before me is daunting. Yes I have thought about it, as we have done most everything and I mean everything together. What would I do then?
    Thankfully my sons and their families live close by and they are very good to us. I am aware that there are a lot of groups, organisations, and social groups out there for seniors, particularly for ones on their own, including this site where one can interact and have ones say,and we do have friends that socialise and have lots of fun. But how does one know how the situation pans out, or ones thoughts and feelings when one is actually on their own? Us older ones know that we are living in a much different world to the one when families generally as a rule looked after their older ones. Let us not confuse the fact that getting older, health issues will become a major issue for most of us,that is a fact of life. It happens to us whether we are lonely or not.
    So yes lets make the most of what we have and yes when and if the situation arises, lets be aware that there is life outside the home, there will be lonely people who will welcome friendship and companionship, and yes life is very much worthwhile.
    Nan Norma
    20th Jun 2012
    philary, May I suggest you join a social group now. Preferably a women's group. You will make friends, and should the time come you find yourself alone, you will have a support group , which you will need. I'm sure you do have a lovely family, but you still need the friendships of your own peers.
    20th Jun 2012
    philary, do read my reply to bilby. You can do U3A courses online if there isn't a group in your area but that's not getting out and meeting people.. or do a TAFE course or start up a morning tea group with your current lady friends or couples (but just ladies is fun even at our age!). Our group meets in a particular cafe and they have even given us a private room for free or they set us up in the busy cafe if the room is booked. It really is a most enjoyable mid-week appointment!
    21st Jun 2012
    I am 66 and from 2005 - 2011 I did a university course : that worked the brain enormously and I am sure helped me to think better but the effort required also took me away from my social world to a great extent. But as others have commented above if I dont force myself to go and join some type of group activity its a certainty that they wont come knocking on my door either i.e. U3A, TAFE, Mens Sheds, Family history groups etc etc There are many organizations out there worthy of investigation.
    24th Jun 2012
    I think that the loneliness that you experience in a marriage is worse than the loneliness you feel when you are on your own.
    I have been a single parent for the past 11 years, and while this has been a lonely time, it was harder when I was married and the expectation was there to not be lonely. At least the silence isn't a bad thing.
    Next year my last child will be old enough to be on his own. I must prepare for a new life by myself, alone but hopefully not lonely.
    Scares the shit out of me at times.
    Nan Norma
    24th Jun 2012
    Mignon. The good thing is you are aware of your situation and will act appropriately. There are so may opportunities out there for you. I know what you mean about loneliness in a marriage . So many men don't want to do anything except sit at home and watch TV. That leaves his wife almost as socially isolated as he is, but not by choice. Couples do not invite a woman without her husband, to dinner. There are many women in this situation. You're exactly married, but you're not single either. Good luck.
    25th Jun 2012
    I guess in life it is always good if you have somebody to lean on in times of need. We have that in many ways from childhood through to retirement. By the time we retire, we have all experienced those extremes of life ranging from total contentment ect ect to absolute grief or disenchantment ect ect. Loneliness is horrible, because as humans we are basically social beings.
    Many cultures still retain traditional family values where 3 or 4 generations live under the one family roof and that is what has been lost to the detriment of both the very young and very old. For some life near its zenith simply feels as if the party is over.
    Maybe the great circle may swing back given enough time. For those that are by themselves, confirmed due to health issues but physical and mental all i can suggest is pick up a phone. Make that first step. Try and phone an old friend and dont forget there are many good organisations still out there like salvo's, lifeline who can provide that you seek.
    This subject reminds me of a couple of songs.
    Remember John prine, Hello in there.

    Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger,
    And old rivers grow wilder ev'ry day.
    Old people just grow lonesome
    Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello."

    and remember

    Oh yes I'm the great pretender,
    Pretending that I'm doing well
    My need is such
    That I pretend too much,
    I'm lonely, but no one can tell.

    kind regards, Riddle
    25th Jun 2012
    I am 59yrs old, and scared shitless of the future alone.
    My whole life I have been caring for my family, and soon I will be"free".
    Free to do what and to be what???
    Nan Norma
    25th Jun 2012
    There are so many organizations desperate for volunteers. You've spent so much time looking after your family, now start looking after your self. A new world will open up to you.
    25th Jun 2012
    Thanks for the reply.
    Not sure that I want to be a volunteer just to keep busy.
    New world?
    I feel like I have done what I was sent here for.
    Nan Norma
    25th Jun 2012
    Your only 59yrs old. You sound rather depressed. I don't know where you live but I'm sure if you looked around you'd find many opportunities. Being a volunteer worker means you get to do the kind of work you might have always wanted to and couldn't because of other commitments. Yes, there is a whole new world waiting for you.
    25th Jun 2012
    Thanks again for the reply.
    I am experiencing a new world now.

    I have PTSD, with associated depression and anxiety.
    I tried 2 volunteer groups but I suffered am anxiety attack and so am just staying home for a while until I get better.
    Life is strange at times.
    Nan Norma
    25th Jun 2012
    So now you are afraid to try again in case it happens again. I can understand that. I do hope you are getting some sort of help from a good counsellor and there are some excellent sites on the net that can give support. Have you heard of Beyond Blue. I do promise you better things are yet to come.

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles
    you might also be interested in...

    Retirement Planning

    When retirement planning becomes life planning it is a challenging, fun and fulfilling task.

    Age pension explained

    Anne explains whether you will qualify for an Age Pension and simplifies some of the more complex scenarios you may encounter dealing with Centrelink.


    Got the travel bug or need a break? Take a look at our latest Seniors travel discounts and deals.

    Meal Ideas

    Be inspired by our easy meal ideas. Search through hundreds of recipes to find the perfect one for any occasion.


    Have some fun and keep your mind active with our Daily Crossword, Trivia, Word Search and Sudoku Games.