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News Article

Loneliness Affects Body, Brain

By Miriam Bello | Tue, 04/26/2022 - 16:10

Beyond economies and supply chains, the COVID-19 pandemic also significantly impacted mental and physical health. The feeling of loneliness worsened during the past two years as individuals isolated during the pandemic, affecting both body and brain, explain experts.

While it is hard to measure social isolation and loneliness precisely, there is strong evidence that many adults aged 50 and older are socially isolated or lonely in ways that put their health at risk, according to Our World in Data. Loneliness, as defined by mental health professionals, is a gap between the connectedness that a person wants and what they have. It is not the same as social isolation, which is codified in the social sciences as a measure of a person’s contacts. Loneliness is a subjective feeling. People can have a lot of social contact and still feel lonely, or be perfectly content by themselves.

While not a disease or mental health condition itself, social isolation significantly increased 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 percent increased risk of dementia. Poor social relationships characterized by social isolation or loneliness were associated with a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke. Loneliness was also associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. Moreover, loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly four times increased risk of death, 68 percent increased risk of hospitalization and 57 percent increased risk of emergency department visits.

During the ongoing years of the COVID-19, isolation increased the feeling of loneliness. A citywide survey by New York’s health department found that 57 percent of people said they felt lonely some or most of the time, while two-thirds said they felt socially isolated in the previous month, reported the NYT. Young adults seemed to be more susceptible to loneliness, with a 63 percent increase in the feelings of anxiety and depression.

Mexico is yet to measure the impact of the pandemic on loneliness and other mental health issues. However, the PSY-COVID 19 study, carried out in 30 countries including 12 in Latin America, seeks to identify the impact of the pandemic on mental health. Preliminary results of this analysis of the psychosocial impact of the pandemic indicate that "perceived loneliness is one of the main variables that could explain differences when developing mental health symptoms, such as anxiety disorders, depression and somatization, in the context of mobility restrictions due to the pandemic,” said Antoni Sanz, Professor of Stress, UAB, to DW.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst