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Study Finds Alarming Loneliness Rate Among Youth

         5/2/2018

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On May 1st, healthcare company Cigna released their findings on American loneliness. A recent national survey has spotted some alarming trends in the social connectedness, friendships and emotional fulfillment (or lack thereof), especially within the younger generations.

The company used a survey of 20 questions developed by the University of California Los Angeles. They rely on the recipient reporting their own subjective feelings of how lonely they perceive themselves to be. It was applied to a sample of some 20,000 Americans 18 years or older. Their answers were then aggregated into scores, of which the average was 43 “points.”

According to their results, 47% of all Americans reported “sometimes or always feeling alone or left out.” Furthermore, 27% of Americans “rarely or never” felt there were people who could understand them.

Of those numbers, members of Generation Z, born from 1995 to 2010, are the loneliest. And while that might lead some to believe that social media is the cause, it appears to not be a major factor. Self-reported “heavy users” of social media scored only 2 points higher than those who never used social media at all. (43.5 and 41.7, respectively) The claim that the youngest people are the loneliest is also interesting because the social isolation of senior citizens has long been known as a very serious problem. The American Association of Retired People went so far as to label social isolation a “silent killer” of the elderly.

Some key factors that appeared to reduce loneliness levels across generations were, predictably, sleep, exercise, meaningful friendships, and a good work-life balance. The purpose of this study was to help understand the factors that caused loneliness and treat it, especially in the context of healthcare recipients. They hope to use these findings to help their patients and customers receive better treatment through initiatives such as programs where employees call senior customers to check on their mental well-being on a regular basis.

Of course, no study is without its flaws. The fact that it requires each of the respondents to answer about their subjective feelings of loneliness, which is something defined differently by each person, it may or may not indicate as high levels of loneliness as the scores might suggest. Sociological studies often have these issues, especially when the recipients need to answer as many as 20 questions. The study could develop more credibility if it were repeated each year so as to observe comparisons of loneliness at different points in time.

Whatever the implications might be, this study is important to understand how loneliness impacts people of all ages. With recent evidence that feelings of social ostracism and isolation are registered by the brain in the same areas as physical pain, loneliness may be contributing to the rising rates of depression and anxiety, and even that ostracism may increase support for violence, it is an issue that must be considered when attempting to understand the root causes of other ongoing issues.

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