Health Risks of Social Isolation and Loneliness
Social isolation and loneliness have become widespread problems in the United States, posing a serious threat to our mental and physical health.
Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to increased risk for:2-7
- Heart disease and stroke.
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Depression and anxiety.
- Suicidality and self-harm.
- Earlier death.
Social isolation is the lack of relationships with others and little to no social support or contact. It is associated with risk even if people don’t feel lonely.
Loneliness is feeling alone or disconnected from others. It is feeling like you do not have meaningful or close relationships or a sense of belonging. It reflects the difference between a person’s actual and desired level of connection. This means that even a person with a lot of friends can feel lonely.
Loneliness and isolation may be shaped by many factors, including culture, demographics, and the places where people live, work, learn, and play.
More than 1 in 3 adults aged 45 and older feel lonely in the United States.5
Factors That Might Increase a Persons’ Risk of Social Isolation and Loneliness1,5,8-13
- Having a lower income (less than $50,000/year).
- Having a psychiatric or depressive disorder.
- Being marginalized or discriminated against.
- Challenges to accessing resources, such as living in a rural areas, limited transportation, language barriers.
- Stress due to a lack of resources.
- Having a chronic disease or condition.
- Having a long-term disability.
- Being unmarried, unpartnered, or living alone.
- Being a victim of violence or abuse.
- Major life transitions like getting divorced, losing a job, or loss of a loved one.
The Costs of Social Isolation and Loneliness
Loneliness costs the US economy an estimated $406 billion a year14, in addition to the estimated $6.7 billion a year in Medicare costs for socially isolated older adults.15
Research suggests that loneliness impacts some groups more than others,5,8,9 including:
- Low-income adults.
- Young adults.
- Older adults.
- Adults living alone.
- People with chronic diseases and disabilities.
- Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (or queer).
Social isolation increases your risk5 of:
Dementia by 50%
Heart disease by 29%
Stroke by 32%
Nearly 1 in 4 adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated.5
- The Loneliness Epidemic Persists: A Post-Pandemic Look at the State of Loneliness among U.S. Adults. The Cigna Group; December 2021. Accessed March 21, 2023.
- House JS, Landis KR, Umberson D. Social relationships and health. Science. 1988;241(4865):540-545.
- Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB. Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS Med. 2010;7(7):e1000316.
- Holt-Lunstad J. Social connection as a public health issue: the evidence and a systemic framework for prioritizing the “social” in social determinants of health. Annu Rev Public Health. 2022;43:193-213.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. The National Academies Press; 2020.
- Valtorta NK, Kanaan M, Gilbody S, Ronzi S, Hanratty B., 2016. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart. 2016;102(13): 1009-1016.
- Pantell M, Rehkopf D, Jutte D, Syme SL, Balmes J, Adler N. Social isolation: a predictor of mortality comparable to traditional clinical risk factors. Am J Public Health. 2013;103(11):2056-62.
- Healthy Places By Design. Socially Connected Communities: Solutions for Social Isolation. 2021. Accessed March 21, 2023. https://healthyplacesbydesign.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Socially-Connected-Communities_Solutions-for-Social-Isolation.pdf
- Social Isolation and Loneliness: Impacts on Health and Approaches to Prevention for the Fairfax Community, December 2021. https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/neighborhood-community-services/sites/neighborhood-community-services/files/assets/documents/prevention/reports/sil%20report%20-%20final%20-1121.pdf
- Mann F, Wang J, Pearce E, Ma R, Schlief M, Lloyd-Evans B, Ikhtabi S, Johnson S. Loneliness and the onset of new mental health problems in the general population. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2022;57(11):2161-2178.
- Santini ZI, Jose PE, York Cornwell E, Koyanagi A, Nielsen L, Hinrichsen C, Meilstrup C, Madsen KR, Koushede V. Social disconnectedness, perceived isolation, and symptoms of depression and anxiety among older Americans (NSHAP): a longitudinal mediation analysis. Lancet Public Health. 2020;5(1):e62-e70.
- Lund JJ, Chen TT, LaBazzo GE, Hawes SE, Mooney SJ. The association between three key social determinants of health and life dissatisfaction: A 2017 behavioral risk factor surveillance system analysis. Prev Med. 2021;153:106724.
- Holt-Lunstad J, Robles TF, Sbarra DA. Advancing social connection as a public health priority in the United States. Am Psychol. 2017;72(6):517-530.
- Loneliness and It’s Impact on the American Workplace. Cigna; March 2020. Accessed March 21, 2023. https://www.cigna.com/static/www-cigna-com/docs/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/loneliness-and-its-impact-on-the-american-workplace.pdf
- Flower L, Shaw J, Farid M. Medicare Spends More on Socially Isolated Older Adults. AARP Public Policy Institute; November 2017. Accessed March 21, 2023. https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2017/10/medicare-spends-more-on-socially-isolated-older-adults.pdf