Paula Dutton experienced a series of life changes that reduced the number of close friends and relatives she could turn to: a cross-country move from her hometown of Philadelphia to Los Angeles, a divorce, the death of both parents. Then she retired.
Suddenly she was alone. Anxiety and depression set in.
“I worked myself into a fever pitch in my loneliness,” Dutton said. After a panic attack that resulted in a call to paramedics, she realized her loneliness might be affecting her health. Once she joined a church and began connecting with a community, she felt calmer.
Dutton’s story is far from unusual. nearly half of Americans say they “always” or “sometimes” feel alone and left out, and nearly one-fifth feel they have no one to turn to, according to a study released in May by global health insurer Cigna. Young adults ages 18 to 22 were slightly more likely to report feeling lonely than those in other age groups. In addition, about half of those who reported feeling lonely said they were in “fair” or “‘poor” health.
The Cigna study is part of a growing body of evidence that loneliness and social isolation afflict millions of Americans and that the problem is associated with costly illnesses, erodes social cohesion and — according to some theories — even exacerbates the nation’s partisan political divide, with potential implications for democracy.
Experts have differing theories about what is driving loneliness and isolation, and not all agree that the problem is growing. But there is widespread agreement that psychologists, social workers, medical practitioners and public officials should pay more attention to it.
“Loneliness is a growing health epidemic” in the United States, affecting “people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds,” former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared in 2017.
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