Whenever I think of loneliness, the Five Bears in the Bed song from Sesame Street starts to play in my head. It’s a perfect parable of the tension between personal space and social connection. “Two bears in the bed and the little one said, ‘I’m crowded, roll over!’ So they all rolled over and one fell out. One bear in the bed and the little one said, ‘I’m lonely.'”
I know what you’re thinking – it’s just loneliness! In a world where mass shootings are commonplace and our polar ice caps are melting, it’s easy to feel that there are more important things to worry about than loneliness. That its nothing more than cartoon bears in an old-school folk song. But the truth is that overlooking and de-prioritizing loneliness will only make our social problems worse.
A study published in the March/April issue of Annals of Family Medicine spoke to patients visiting their primary care physician. Researchers gave patients a survey on loneliness, and the results are heartbreaking (literally).
On it’s own, this is a sobering statistic, but the study results found a lot more. We typically think loneliness primarily affects the elderly. And for a long time, that was generally true. But something has changed in our social pathos and we’re starting to see the impact of it. The study found that young adults (age 18-24) have the highest rate of loneliness. And when we compare the stats, 33% of young adults felt lonely, versus only 11% of older adults over age 65. This is scary stuff, because this means that:
All of this data confirms the results of a study done last year by Cigna. That means that these aren’t isolated study results – these are social trends. We are literally becoming a lonely planet. I want to spend time digging into this together. Understanding how we got here, what it all means and how we start to turn this trend around. This is far more than cartoon bears and folk songs. With seven billion people on this lonely planet, we owe it to each other to figure this out.