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Health Effects of Social Isolation and Loneliness

We are social creatures, and our social systems evolved to thrive in collaborative networks of people. In many societies, social networks are likely to thin as people age, leading, in many cases, to isolation and loneliness. There are many reasons why people find themselves stuck in this vicious cycle of life. For many, it’s years of mental or physical abuse. Whichever abuse is taking place, it doesn’t get better overnight, or when you say "That’s enough!" it all stops. For a great proportion, this is carried on throughout adult life, leading to broken down relationships, and a life being on your own.

The risks of social isolation

I’d like to share a story about a good friend who is now 49 years old and has never been able to get over the fact that his parents gave up on him. He was sent to a foster home when he was 4 due to his mother and father fighting all time, there was another brother but he was left at home. He was moved from one home to another, some government homes some private. He came back home for a while but his mother and father divorced and the stepfather didn’t want either of the children so they said they couldn’t control him so the social services came to collect him and sent him off to another foster home. The other sibling went elsewhere and then ended up on the streets. Some of the foster homes were awful, abuse both mental and physical took place, this on top of a child who was just sent away by his parents and no longer wanted.

He did have a few friends that looked out for him but throughout life he just couldn’t understand the people that cared for him, he always used to say “how can other people care for me when my own parents never could”. This has carried on for years and to this day he is a lonely person, he has behaved in ways that people have turned their backs on him.  He has always said he has something wrong mentally which is totally understandable when he has been through so many years of neglect. There was no cuddling or love in his life and those that tried to be there were after a time just tossed aside. He found it so hard to show feelings to people, there was no trust anywhere.  This man is 49 now and life will never be any different for him because mentally he will always be that child who at the age of 4 was forgotten.

These years of mental neglect have led the man to never be able to hold down a job, take orders from other people and be totally paranoid about his health, to the extent where he would be called a hypochondriac.

Some studies suggest that the impact of isolation and loneliness on health and mortality are of the same order of magnitude as such risk factors as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking.

Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. You can be alone, yet not lonely. You can feel lonely in a houseful of people.

It’s a feeling that you’re disconnected from others, with no one to confide in. It’s a lack of meaningful relationships and it can happen to children, older adults, and everyone in between.

Almost everybody feels lonely at some point, and that’s not necessarily detrimental. Sometimes, it’s a temporary state of affairs due to circumstance, like when you move to a new town, get divorced, or lose a loved one. Getting more involved in social activities and meeting new people can usually help you move forward.

But this can be difficult at times, and the longer your isolation continues, the harder it can be to change. Maybe you don’t know what to do, or maybe you’ve tried without success.

This can be a problem, because persistent loneliness can have a negative impact on your emotional and physical health. In fact, loneliness has been associated with depression, suicide, and physical illness.

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