Social Isolation and Loneliness: The Silent Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been told to shelter in place. For many of us, sheltering in place has been a way of life before COVID-19. 

World Health Organization reports, social isolation can be as a damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The problem worsens as we get older.

  • 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 was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia.
  • Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. 
  • Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
  • Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with nearly four times increased risk of death, a 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and a 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.

Here are some tips to help with social isolation and loneliness:

  • Take time to talk to family and friends - phone, virtual platform, email, and social media
  • Keep up a healthy lifestyle - eat a balanced diet, exercise, and get quality sleep
  • Take up a new hobby you always wanted to try
  • Get as much sunlight, fresh air, and nature as you can
  • Practice relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness
  • If social media makes you feel fearful or anxious, unplug
  • If you are socially distancing and feeling lonely because of COVID-19, remind yourself this is a temporary period of isolation
  • Confide in family and friends how you are feeling
  • Take part in an in-person support or virtual support group

If you suspect you are suffering from chronic loneliness, talk with your provider or mental health professional. They can refer you to mental health professionals to see if individual or group therapy in-person or via teletherapy is right for you. Just like a medical condition, it will only get worse if untreated.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately. If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-272 TALK (8255). 

Harlan County Health System's Senior Life Solutions is an intensive outpatient group therapy program designed to meet the unique needs of older adults suffering from symptoms of anxiety and depression often related to aging. For more information, or if you know an older loved one experiencing isolation or loneliness and is in need of help, contact us at 308-928-9048.