Millions of Americans are suffering from a deadly, expensive health issue–one for which we have no vaccine, immunity, or quick cure. It’s loneliness –and it quietly permeates every level of our society. Each year, loneliness costs families, the healthcare system, and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars.
To begin to tackle loneliness, it’s critical to understand it. Loneliness doesn’t necessarily mean that one is physically separated from others. It’s an all-consuming belief that one is socially isolated and cannot form meaningful connections with others.
It’s a shockingly common issue. Nearly three in five U.S. adults are considered lonely, according to data from Morning Consult. Underrepresented racial groups and people with low incomes are particularly likely to grapple with loneliness.
While loneliness lurks below the surface, it produces outsized health harms. Chronic loneliness rewires our brains and produces harmful inflammation. It fuels nearly every dangerous disease in the book, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and dementia. In fact, research has found that the health risks of prolonged loneliness are similar to those of smoking 15 cigarettes each and every day.
These health issues require patients to make frequent trips to the doctor–or worse, result in serious medical episodes. Those expenses add up fast and cost patients and our healthcare system dearly.
I know this all too well. My stepdaughter Rylie fatally lost her mental health battle in 2021 after living with chronic loneliness and bipolar for years. My wife and I were devastated. I was also deeply frustrated with the healthcare system for only treating her physical symptoms and missing the myriad of mental health warning signs.
You see, Rylie was no stranger to the ER. She often experienced episodes that required emergency care. Before her worst episodes, she expressed feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
In total, she went to the hospital dozens of times over a period of two years, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The doctors always provided temporary solutions to her immediate issues. But the underlying loneliness–what was ultimately driving so many of her more severe episodes–went largely unaddressed.
Many families cannot afford such monstrous medical expenses–and would struggle to pay for other basic necessities like food and housing. I also shudder…
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