Do you experience bouts of loneliness? You’re not alone. In fact, a new nationwide survey from health insurer Cigna found that nearly half the country is in the same boat.
The online survey of 20,000 adults consisted of self-reported responses to a series of 20 statements or questions. Analysts used the well-known UCLA Loneliness Scale to calculate respondents’ loneliness scores, which range from 20 to 80.
Those scoring 43 and above were considered lonely. The average loneliness score in America is 44, suggesting that “most Americans are considered lonely,” according to the report.
Younger adults born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s had loneliness scores of about 48 compared with about 39 for respondents ages 72 and older.
According to the survey, 54 percent of respondents said they sometimes or always feel that no one knows them very well. Even more (56 percent) reported sometimes or always feeling like the people they’re surrounded with “are not necessarily with them.”
Two-fifths reported a lack of meaningful relationships and companionship; saying they are “isolated from others.”
"Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote earlier this year in the Harvard Business Review.
Several studies have found a link between loneliness and a higher risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Others have even found evidence of premature mortality.
"Our survey found that actually the younger generation was lonelier than the older generations," Dr. Douglas Nemecek, the chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna, told NPR.
While previous research suggests social media may play a role in the rise of depression and suicide among American youth, the Cigna survey didn’t find a correlation between social media use and loneliness.
"If you're passively using it, if you're just scrolling feeds, that's associated with more negative effects," Brigham Young University psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad told NPR. "But if you're using it to reach out and connect to people to facilitate other kinds of [in-person] interactions, it's associated with more positive effects."
Holt-Lunstad wasn’t involved in the study, but has previously researched the public health impact of loneliness.
So what’s making Americans so lonely?
The survey found that working too often or not enough contributed to loneliness, making workplaces a significant source for fostering social relationships and ensuring a work-life balance, NPR reported.
“There is an inherent link between loneliness and the workplace, with employers in a unique position to be a critical part of the solution,” Douglas Nemecek, chief medical officer for Behavioral Health at Cigna, said.
The company is launching an effort to address the loneliness epidemic through various programs, including an Employee Assistance Program.
Physical activity plays a role, too. Respondents who said they exercise more or less than desired had higher loneliness scores compared with those who said they exercise “just the right amount.”
People spending more or less than desired time with family also saw higher loneliness scores. But “those who report spending too much time with family stand out as being more likely than those who don’t to say that they feel as though they are part of a group of friends (73 percent vs. 64 percent) and they can find companionship when they need it (74 percent vs. 67 percent),” the report found.
Sleep is yet another important predictor. Those who feel they get just the right amount of sleep said they were less likely to feel a lack of companionship and more likely to have someone they can turn to.