Loneliness: The Next Big Epidemic 

1 in 4 people are lonely. Experts say loneliness is as harmful as obesity and puts you at a 26% higher risk of death

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3 min read
Social networking is eroding our ability to live comfortably offline (Photo: iStock)

What is your biggest fear? Ask people around. Mine is loneliness. Three out five people will agree with me. The other two might not be conscious of it yet.

Loneliness: A Public Health Issue

A large-scale study by University of Michigan found that one in four young people are feeling “left behind, lonely and unsatisfied.”

This figure shocked me. Facebook has more than a billion users, we’re better connected than ever before but all this is eroding our ability to live comfortably offline.

And loneliness kills. Quite literally. That’s the conclusion of a new study by the Brigham Young University has sounded the alarm on loneliness as the next big public health issue, on par with obesity and substance abuse!

What’s worse: The feeling of loneliness increases the risk of death by 26%. Loneliness is also the leading cause of depression.

These findings are published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Connected But Alone?

What do you do when you’re alone? Do you ever reach out for a magazine in a waiting area? Nope. You fiddle, you quickly pull out your phone and kill time. Technology is exhilarating but it’s changing who we are and how we behave.

Till five years back, emailing or texting from a meeting would’ve been downright rude. Fast forward to 2015 - even bosses are responding to each beep in the middle of a meeting. Colleagues are having parallel conversations on Whatsapp. Students are e-shopping in classrooms. Technology has distracted us at the dinner table.

Have we sacrificed conversation for connection? Real picture of four colleagues during an office break. (Photo: The Quint)
Have we sacrificed conversation for connection? Real picture of four colleagues during an office break. (Photo: The Quint)

It’s an increasingly disturbing situation. You’re getting used to being alone in a crowd.

I often say, “I’d rather text than talk.” Psychologists find this behaviour worrisome. With smart phones, the art of real interaction is on its way out. The Facebook posts, the comments and tweets can never replace the face-to-face human conversation. Social media allows us to be in charge of our culpability and our conceit. The more we depend upon technology, the less we need real people to fulfil our needs.

A recent study of Facebook users found that the amount of time you spend on networking sites is inversely related to how happy you are throughout the day.

A society that rates you on the number of social media followers you have, loneliness is difficult to digest or deal with. It almost feels shameful.

Get Over Loneliness

Get out. Let your hair down. Have some unadulterated family time (Photo: iStock)
Get out. Let your hair down. Have some unadulterated family time (Photo: iStock)

You can have 700 friends on Facebook. You might get a 100 “likes” on your profile picture but still be lonely. It is a cruel contradiction but completely true. Most of us know what it is like to be lonely in a room full of people, which is the same reason even a celebrity can be deeply lonely.

In order to be happy, you need quality and not quantity and at the cost of sounding all AAish, the first step is to acknowledge that you are unnecessarily sucked up in your phone all the time. Only then can you break the habit.

Stop being an addict. Make a constant effort to be keep your phone aside and talk to the people you are with.

Make a plan to leave the house. Run errands with your friends or partner. Be with your gang who makes you happy.

Instead of telling the world through a status update about your day, ask your partner how his day was. It will make a difference.

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