People have never been more connected than they are today. Technology and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter bring people together and broaden people’s access to each other. According to Zephoria Digital, there were over 2,01 billion active Facebook users in June 2017.

However, a report published by the World Economic Forum shows that people are increasingly feeling isolated. The report on the insidious effects of isolation focused mainly on North American and European populations. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, who presented the research at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, says “social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.”

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The findings were based on two major research analyses. The first was an amalgamation of 148 studies, which looked at  300 000 participants. It showed that those who had more social connections were 50% less likely to suffer an early death.

The second, an amalgamation of 70 studies which looked at 3,4 million individuals, found that social isolation, living alone and loneliness “had a significant and equal effect on the risk of premature death, one that was equal to or exceeded the effect of other well-accepted risk factors such as obesity”.

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While it may be tempting to see this as a first world problem, countries like South Africa which are experiencing rapid urbanisation are also likely to start seeing the same patterns stemming from chronic loneliness.

The first of the research analysis was published in 2010, entitled Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review, found that “current evidence also indicates that the quantity and/or quality of social relationships in industrialized societies are decreasing”.

Having strong social relationships helps in that it “moderates or buffers the deleterious influence of stressors on health”, which means that those who are not lonely are better able to deal with things such as illness, life events and transitions.

Sources: Zaphoria.com, World Economic Forum