While the World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced the creation of a new commission to foster social connection, describing loneliness as “a pressing health threat”, a British study provides further evidence of these harmful effects.
The research goes even further, revealing that the lack or absence of social ties could increase the risk of premature death.
This University of Glasgow (Scotland) research, published in the journal BMC Medicine, explores the link between lack of social connection and increased risk of death.
The research, involving 458,146 people with an average age of 57, looked specifically at the lack or absence of two types of social connection: below-normal social contact and feelings of isolation.
This research suggests that having low levels of objective social connections, such as not seeing friends and family often, or subjective feelings of lack of social connection, such as feeling lonely or not being able to confide in someone close, is associated with an increased risk of death.
This risk is exacerbated by the combined absence of these two types of social connection.
The study particularly highlights the danger for people living alone and lacking other markers of social connection.
They may have infrequent contact with friends and family, for example, or not participate in regular group activities.
These individuals could be particularly at risk of premature death, according to this study.
The research also suggests that some extreme markers of social disconnection, such as living alone and never seeing friends or family, may be strong enough to mask the benefits of some positive social connections.
“Our study looks at several dimensions of social connection and found that combining different dimensions could affect the risk of premature death more than previously realised.
“This means that when tackling problems like loneliness and social isolation, we need to assess these different dimensions both separately and in combination, if we are going to identify and support those who are most isolated in society,” explains researcher Dr Hamish Foster in a news release. – AFP Relaxnews