science of us

This New Study on Loneliness Sure Is Bleak

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Photo: Igor Ustynskyy/Getty Images

If you’re incredibly lonely, the somewhat comforting news is that you’re ironically not alone — nearly half of Americans suffer feelings of isolation and sadness at least some, if not all, of the time. The incredibly bleak news, however, is that the loneliness you may be experiencing will probably afflict you again in the future. Lovely.

To find out just how bad it is out there, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine asked 340 people between the ages of 27 and 101 about feelings of isolation, and used a number of measures, including the well-established UCLA Loneliness Scale. Their findings, published in International Psychogeriatrics, weren’t so great: Basically throughout their entire life, male and female adults experience between moderate and serious loneliness, but it’s at its worst strongly during your late-20s, mid-50s, and late-80s.

“This is noteworthy because the participants in this study were not considered to be at high risk for moderate to severe loneliness,” Dilip Jeste, a distinguished professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and the lead researcher, said. “They didn’t have major physical disorders. Nor did they suffer from significant mental illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia, in which you might expect loneliness to be problematic. Though there were clear demographic limitations to the group, these participants were, generally speaking, regular people.”

The intensity here is key. Because a little mild loneliness from time to time is common and expected — and can even be good for you — researchers only looked at the feeling in its most miserable form, from which more and more people are suffering every day. Over the past 50 years, what public health officials have deemed the loneliness epidemic has been rising at an alarming rate, which has a whole slew of negative health effects, both psychological and physiological. On top of feeling incredibly isolated, people who suffer from moderate to intense are more likely to suffer from poor sleep, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, reduced immunity, and inflammation.

The study does include what it paints as a “silver lining.” Ellen Lee, a research fellow at the School of Medicine, noted that the findings show a “strong” inverse relationship between loneliness and wisdom, which “may be due to the fact that behaviors which define wisdom, such as empathy, compassion, emotional regulation, self-reflection, effectively counter or prevent serious loneliness.”

Anyway, just going to leave this here!

This New Study on Loneliness Sure Is Bleak