We tend to think biologically when it comes to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the top five leading causes of death in the United States are:
Heart disease (23.4%)
Respiratory Disease (5.7%)
Unintentional Injuries (5.4%)
Rounding out the top ten list are:
Alzheimer’s Disease (4.1%)
Kidney disease (1.8%)
So what would you say if I told you that the greatest threat may not be biological but psychological? The American Psychological Association wrapped up its 125th national convention in early August where attendees heard a report suggesting loneliness and social isolation may increase the chances of early death by as much as 50%.
This was a meta-analyses study, which means it distilled statistical data from a wide assortment of studies covering thousands of people.
Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and a co-author of the study, commented on the findings:
There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators…With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase. Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a “loneliness epidemic.” The challenge we face now is what can be done about it.
A 2010 study conducted by AARP reported, “Loneliness was a significant predictor of poor health. Those who rated their health as ‘excellent’ were over half as likely to be lonely than those who rated their health as ‘poor’ (25% vs. 55%).”
The AARP study questioned over 3,000 participants aged 45 years and older. Those participants demonstrated that social support has a dramatic impact in feelings of loneliness. Participants who reported having one or more supportive people in their lives were far less likely to report feeling lonely than those who reported no supportive people in their lives (34% to 76%).
What Does This Mean?
As society creeps toward wider acceptance of assisted suicide it must grapple with the reality that loneliness is tied to a sense of futility about life. The lack of at least one person to support them in life with conversation and visits increases a futility about life that makes assisted suicide much more appealing.
We should all be keenly aware of the circumstances and signs of loneliness. Sometimes regularly phone calling or visiting can change one’s outlook on life.
We may not all want to actively engage in the political and legislative efforts to challenge attempts to legalize assisted suicide. We can, however, “adopt” those are might be alone and make an effort to regularly network with those who need at least one person to call their friend.