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Social Isolation

Social Isolation

Did you know that loneliness is a public health concern? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared social isolation an epidemic. A lack of social connections is tied to a higher risk for many health conditions. Combatting loneliness and increasing connections are important for improving health.

What Is Social Isolation?

Social isolation happens when you don’t regularly interact with many people. 

Three elements make up your social connection, according to this 2023 report

  • Structure – This includes the number and variety of relationships, and frequency of interactions with others.
  • Function – This describes how much you can rely on others to meet different needs. It includes having people who can give you advice, offer emotional support, or show up to help you in a crisis.
  • Quality – This covers how positive, helpful and satisfying your relationships are. If you get along well with the people in your life and they’re kind to you, those are high-quality relationships. If you’re excluded or treated poorly, that is a low-quality relationship.

These factors impact how much social connection and support you have. If you have a lot of friends and family, but they don’t support you or include you in activities, you may still be socially isolated. If you only interact with a few people, but they’re all kind, supportive and emotionally close to you – you could still have a high degree of social connection.

Who Does Social Isolation Impact?

Anyone can be socially isolated, but certain groups are more likely to experience this than others. 

Health Issues Linked to Social Isolation

Social isolation is linked to serious physical and mental health conditions [PDF]. Not having strong social connections makes you:

  • 50% more likely to have dementia
  • 29% more likely to have heart disease
  • 32% more likely to have a stroke
  • More likely to be anxious, depressed or attempt suicide
  • More likely to develop viruses and respiratory illnesses
  • Four times as likely to die from heart failure 
  • Significantly more likely to die prematurely

Put another way, being lonely or socially isolated is as dangerous to your health as:

  • Smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Drinking six alcoholic drinks a day
  • Not being physically active
  • Being obese

Fighting Social Isolation

Thankfully, combatting loneliness in our community is a very achievable goal. University Health offers a variety of community programs that can help patients connect with their peers. 

Also, mental health support can help individuals learn to build relationships with others. Programs that foster social relationships are an excellent way to contribute to community health and well-being.