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How to Combat the Loneliness Epidemic

This time of year can feel especially lonely for many – as the holiday season fades and Valentine’s Day adds extra pressure to be in a romantic relationship. If you feel this way, you are not alone. A recent Gallup poll found that  about 44 million American adults report feeling lonely. In fact, the US Surgeon General even declared loneliness an epidemic last year due to its serious physical health consequences. According to the Surgeon General’s “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation” report, poor social connection increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia.

Additionally, loneliness can lead to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Having a mental health condition, like depression, can also increase one’s risk of feeling lonely and isolated (CDC). People who live alone and are single are also more likely to feel lonely.

American men are at an especially increased risk of experiencing loneliness and social isolation. While 30 years ago, 55% of American men reported having at least six close friends, that number is now closer to 27%. In fact, 15% of men report having no close friendships at all. Unfortunately, men also experience increased stigma around sharing their emotions and expressing vulnerability which also contributes to them reporting more instances of feeling lonely.

There are multiple reasons our modern world can feel so isolating regardless of gender. The COVID-19 pandemic led to physical and social isolation that led many to develop thoughts of hopelessness and helplessness. Social media, smartphones, and cars have all contributed to a world where people live far apart from each other and are not incentivized to connect in person. It is now common to go for weeks without seeing or speaking to loved ones.

However, it is still possible for us to foster the inclusion and connection that provides us with the necessary support we need to overcome life’s challenges. Here are some ways to combat loneliness from the CDC

  • Keep in regular contact with others. Reach out to different friends and family regularly. If one person is unavailable to take your call, someone else probably is. 
  • Ask for help. If you need extra support, ask a mental health provider. The Stop Stigma Sacramento Services page has a list of resources.
  • Help others. Lending a hand lets the people you love know how much you care. This can create a deeper connection and can feel rewarding. Volunteering is a great way to help others and meet people.
  • Unplug. Ironically, the technology we have to connect us makes people feel lonelier. In-person interactions make us feel closer to our loved ones.  

Being more socially connected can also improve stress responses and minimize the negative health effects of stress. To get connected, join a social group. Sacramento has many organizations to join for activities like yoga, a fitness group, art classes, and book clubs. Being part of a group with shared interests, values, or goals can foster a sense of belonging.

While it can seem daunting to contact someone when you are feeling lonely, keep in mind that reaching out can often help you feel relieved and hopeful. Maintaining your social connections is the key to combatting loneliness. And remember, if you’re struggling with your mental health you can visit the Stop Stigma Sacramento Services page or call NAMI’s free helpline at 800-950-NAMI (6264). Know that help and hope is always available.