While the World Health Organization has just announced the creation of a new commission intended to promote social bonds, considering “loneliness (as an) urgent threat to health”, a British study confirms these harmful effects. It goes even further, revealing that the lack or absence of social connections could increase the risk of premature death.
The study led by the University of Glasgow, published in BMC Medicine, explores the link between lack of social connection and increased risk of mortality. This research, involving 458,146 people with an average age of 57, specifically looked at the lack or absence of two types of social connections: sub-normal social contact and a feeling of isolation. This work suggests that having low levels of so-called ‘objective’ social connections, such as not seeing friends and family often, or so-called ‘subjective’ feelings of lack of social connection, such as feeling alone or not being able to confide in someone close to you, is associated with an increased risk of death. Exacerbated risk in the event of a combined absence of these two types of social connections.
The study particularly highlights the danger for people living alone and lacking other markers of social connection, such as infrequent contact with friends and family or not participating in regular group activities. These individuals could be particularly at risk of premature death, according to this work. The study also suggests that some extreme markers of social disconnection, such as living alone and never seeing friends or family, might be strong enough to mask the benefits of some positive social connections.
“Our study examines several dimensions of social bonding and reveals that the combination of different dimensions could affect the risk of premature death more than previously thought. This means that when we address issues such as loneliness and social isolation, we need to assess these different dimensions both separately and together if we are to identify and support those who are most isolated in society.“, explains Dr Hamish Foster, researcher at the University of Glasgow, in a press release.