Health Effects of Social Isolation and Loneliness

Key points

  • Social isolation is not having relationships, contact with, or support from others.
  • Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, disconnected, or not close to others.
  • Social isolation and loneliness put a person at risk of developing serious mental and physical health conditions.
Young, sad woman looking out a window.


Social isolation and loneliness are widespread problems in the U.S., posing a serious threat to our mental and physical health.

  • About 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. report feeling lonely.A1
  • About 1 in 4 U.S. adults report not having social and emotional support.A1
Graphic showing that about 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. are lonely, and about 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. feel a lack of social and emotional support.
Lack of social connection is common.

Social isolation is when a person does not have relationships or contact with others and has little to no social support.

  • Social isolation can pose a health risk to people, even if they 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.

  • Even a person with a lot of friends can feel lonely.

Did you know?‎

Loneliness and social isolation may be shaped by conditions in the environments where people are born, live, work, learn, worship, and play. These conditions can affect the ability to connect socially. For example, the availability of resources that exist in a community, such as parks, libraries, public transportation, and programs, support the development of social connection.

Risk factors for individuals and groups

Individual risk factors

Certain conditions or experiences may increase a person's risk of social isolation and loneliness. These include:

  • Having a mental or physical challenge, such as a:
    • Chronic disease or condition.
    • Psychiatric or depressive condition.
    • Long-term disability.
  • Being marginalized or discriminated against.
  • Having limited or no access to resources, such as:
    • Living in rural areas.
    • Limited transportation.
    • Language barriers.
  • Being a victim of violence or abuse.
  • Facing a divorce, unemployment, or the loss of a loved one.
Senior man looking out the window.
Older adults are more at risk for social isolation.

Group risk factors

Loneliness may impact some groups more than others:

  • Low-income adults.
  • Young adults.
  • Older adults.
  • Adults living alone.
  • Immigrants.
  • People who identify as LGBTQ+.

Health impacts

Social isolation and loneliness can increase a person's risk for:

  • Heart disease and stroke.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Suicidality and self-harm.
  • Dementia.
  • Earlier death.
  1. The report included data from 39 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands.
  1. Town M, Eke P, Zhao G, et al. Racial and ethnic differences in social determinants of health and health-related social needs among adults — Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United States, 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2024;73(9):204–208.