Young people lonelier than oldest Americans, study says

When I got my first car way back in the 1980s it came with a kicking 8-track player and a suitcase full of rock classics.

After that, I was like an Uber driver: rarely alone in my car. Seems like every friend I had wanted to cruise around listening to music.

Recently I read a headline that, once again, made me realize how lucky I've been:  Young people today say they are lonelier than senior citizens.

A nationwide study by health insurer Cigna says almost half of all Americans report feeling alone or left out, but teens and young adults are most affected.

Health experts say loneliness doesn't just make people sad, it can also make them physically sick. Cigna says being lonely is worse for your health than smoking several cigarettes a day or being obese.

Why are young people the loneliest? You'd think those in school, be it high school or college, would have more friends than older adults, but experts say that assumption is wrong. Earlier studies have concluded older adults tend to have had the time required to forge the meaningful relationships that stave off loneliness.

Smartphones are a scapegoat for a variety of perceived ills, but the Cigna study indicates heavy users of social media are not more lonely than those who avoid it.

But, a 2017 Forbes article says "the number of Americans with no close friends has tripled since 1985," about the time computers started entering our lives. The writer said excessive Internet use can increase loneliness because it "inevitably subtracts time and energy that could otherwise be spent on social activities and building more fulfilling offline friendships."

Another article I read suggested society increasingly isolates the young. For example, more parents are having fewer children and turning to home schooling, which can limit social interaction.

Some colleges are building dorm rooms for solitary students , according to an article in The Atlantic. I called Emory University and Georgia State about single-occupancy dorms, but they said the opposite it true: campus space is so limited students are essentially required to share.

Here's another statistic that may shock you: Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 34, says the National Institute of Mental Health .

The suicide rate in Georgia (13.3 per 100,000 residents) is just below average for the United States (13.5), says the Centers for Disease Control . The suicide rate varies quite a bit and seems highest in landlocked states. The rate is lowest in New Jersey (7.2) and almost four times higher in Montana (25.9).

How to feel less lonely? It's not an easy fix because everyone's needs are different. The study suggests those who work fare better than those who don't. Even a part-time job helps.

Unfortunately, solutions aren't as straightforward as finding a job, moving to a state with a sunny beach or driving around listening to music with friends.

But things can start getting better with something as simple as a phone call. If you or anyone you know needs to talk, call Georgia's crisis hotline at 1-800-715-4225.

"One is the loneliest number," Three Dog Night once sang and I still believe them.

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