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Addressing loneliness as a public health concern


Even before the pandemic, loneliness was a serious concern for many individuals. Being alone for an extended period of time can affect a person’s physical health as well as their mental health. The COVID-19 restrictions exacerbated the situation for many people throughout the US, including those younger individuals who found themselves without their social network for the first time. Addressing loneliness as a public health concern is a critical step in getting these individuals the appropriate help for their mental and physical health.

A study conducted by Harvard University in 2021 found that:

  • 36% of all Americans, including 61% of young adults (ages 18-25) and 51% of mothers with young children, felt “serious loneliness.”
  • 43% of those young adults reported an increase in their feelings of loneliness since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Half of the young adults who reported being lonely said that no one had “taken more than just a few minutes” in the previous few weeks to ask how they were doing in a manner that made them feel as though the person who asked “genuinely cared.”

Additionally, a recent CDC survey found that 63% of the young adult population suffer significant symptoms of anxiety or depression as a result of their loneliness. The independent physician can manage such relevant patient data via a primary care electronic health record (EHR) for better care and improved outcomes.

Younger individuals, those in middle and high school, have suffered from mental and physical issues as a result of their loneliness during the pandemic restrictions. It started, for most students, in the middle of their lifecycle where they were mentally learning how to interact with people appropriately and how to be social in general. It took a toll on those students as well as the population in general.

Direct primary care (DPC) practices who take advantage of technology, including their primary care EHR solution, are more effective in caring for the patient as a whole individual. Learn more about the all-in-one solution for your DPC practice.

Adults also struggle with health issues as a result of their loneliness. Even for those who say they prefer solitude, human interaction is a vital part of their overall well-being. The forced isolation brought on by the pandemic has been shown to be at least partially responsible for the recent increase in suicide numbers and for the increase in the number of health complications.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has emphasized that loneliness is a public health concern. As AMA Board Member Ilse R. Levin, D.O., M.P.H., explains, “Loneliness is a public health issue that can negatively impact people of all ages. However, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re now seeing that younger generations are experiencing more loneliness than older generations, and it’s important that we take steps to combat it.”

Research on the effects of loneliness at the cellular level indicates that chronic loneliness elicits an immune response that promotes inflammation, and chronic inflammation can facilitate the onset of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and frailty. There is also evidence that chronic loneliness leads to adverse mental health outcomes, such as increased rates of anxiety and depression.

The CDC reports that:

  • Social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
  • Social isolation is associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia.
  • Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) is associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
  • Loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
  • Loneliness among heart failure patients is associated with a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.

Treating the patient holistically, addressing the concerns of mental health involved with loneliness and other social determinants of health, and managing care with the appropriate primary care EHR solution, can help improve patient outcomes for their physical health as well.