The loneliness epidemic may be reaching the level of a global crisis, according to research presented by Brigham Young University’s Julianne Holt-Lunstad at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

As Mims reports, Holt-Lunstad and her team examined two large meta-analyses, which included 148 studies covering 300,000 people and 70 studies covering 3.4 million people, to study the effects of social connectedness on people’s health.

They found that “people living alone or affected by loneliness, social isolation” are 50% more likely to die prematurely than people with strong relationships and are at greater risk for mental health issues and cardiovascular disease.

Holt-Lunstad told Mims that the issue is likely to get worse due to aging populations. Elderly people are particularly at risk, since in countries like the US, India and the UK, many older people live alone. But even those who live with others aren’t exempt from loneliness. A 2016 survey conducted by Australian organization Lifeline found that even cohabiting couples and parents suffer from loneliness.

Proposed solutions to widespread loneliness include doctors addressing social connectedness during checkups and school-based social skills training for children, Mims reports.

According to Michelle Lim from Swinburne University of Technology, “Using a positive psychology approach that focuses on increasing positive emotions within relationships or increasing social behaviours may encourage deeper and more meaningful connections with others.”

“Being connected to others socially is a fundamental human need,” Holt-Lunstad told Mims. “It is crucial to both well-being and survival.”

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