The Health Risks of Social Isolation

The Health Risks of Social Isolation

I did my doctoral dissertation on the health effects of social isolation, and what we found was that people who were socially isolated, i.e. people who were either not married, or didn’t have many friends and relatives, or didn’t belong to voluntary or religious organizations, had a mortality risk that was about 3 times as high as people who had many more sources of contacts.

–Dr. Lisa Berkman, director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, discusses research findings showing health risks rise for people who are socially isolated, especially older adults.

Also, here is Dr. Berkman’s abstract for her paper “The Role of Social Relations in Health Promotion“:

In considering new paradigms for the prevention and treatment of disease and disability, we need to incorporate ways to promote social support and develop family and community strengths and abilities into our interventions.There is now a substantial body of evidence that indicates that the extent to which social relationships are strong and supportive is related to the health of individuals who live within such social contexts. A review of population-based research on mortality risk over the last 20 years indicates that people who are isolated are at increased mortality risk from a number of causes. More recent studies indicate that social support is particularly related to survival postmyocardial infarction. The pathways that lead from such socioenvironmental exposures to poor health outcomes are likely to be multiple and include behavioral mechanisms and more direct physiologic pathways related to neuroendocrine or immunologic function. For social support to be health promoting, it must provide both a sense of belonging and intimacy and must help people to be more competent and self-efficacious. Acknowledging that health promotion rests on the shoulders not only of individuals but also of their families and communities means that we must commit resources over the next decade to designing, testing, and implementing interventions in this area.

Image: "008/365: Isolation" by Josh Pesavento.

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