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Forest Road

What is the impact of loneliness?

As I mentioned in my last blog, we can all feel lonely sometimes and usually this resolves over time as situations change for us.

Prolonged and/or intense experiences of loneliness can have startingly negative impacts on our lives however, which can profoundly affect our health and wellbeing. The World Health Organisation is so concerned about the effects of loneliness, it has set up a Commission on Social Connection which aims to see the issue recognised and resourced as a global public health priority.

Here are some statistics on the impact of prolonged loneliness (mainly from the Campaign to End Loneliness):

  1. Loneliness increases risk of early death by about 25%. This is equivalent to the health impact of smoking 15 cigarettes a day or of being obese.

  2. Loneliness is associated with a 29% increase in risk of incident coronary heart disease, and 32% increase in risk of stroke.

  3. Loneliness is associated with high blood pressure, poor sleep quality, reduced immunity against infections and physical inactivity.

  4. Loneliness puts people at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

  5. Social isolation and loneliness are risk factors for the progression of frailty.

  6. Lower social connectedness is associated with higher chronic pain.

  7. Loneliness leads to a greater risk of poorer mental health, including depression. Poor mental health can also lead to loneliness. So the relationship goes in both directions.

  8. Loneliness in early adolescence is associated with lower educational attainment.

  9. Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age.

  10. People who are lonely are more likely to ‘perceive regular events as stressful’.

  11. People who are lonely are more likely to rely on the use of health and social care services.

  12. Loneliness is associated with more general practice contacts, emergency treatments, and hospital admissions.

  13. Research shows an association between loneliness and higher mental healthcare expenditure.

  14. Higher loneliness levels among employees is associated with poorer work performance. A recent study estimates the cost of severe loneliness at around £10,000 per person per year, due to its combined impact on wellbeing, health, and work productivity.

  15. It has been estimated that loneliness costs UK employers £2.5 billion a year, due to its impact on employee sickness, caring activity, productivity, and voluntary staff turnover.

So what can we do? Tomorrow, I’ll look at the actions we can take to tackle loneliness.


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