The greatest danger facing middle-aged men in Australia isn’t smoking or obesity – it is loneliness.
So says Dr. Richard S. Schwartz, a Cambridge psychiatrist and his wife Dr. Jacqueline Olds who wrote the book The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century.
While the book is based on American studies and research, what it shows is also true of life in Australia. And the story was typical. When people with children become over-scheduled, they don’t only short change their children, they also short change their friendships. “And the public health dangers of that are incredibly clear,” they say.
Beginning in the 1980s, Schwartz says, study after study showed that those who were more socially isolated were much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected neighbours, even after correcting for age, gender, and lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right.
Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s. One study found that it can be as much of a long-term risk factor as smoking.
In 2015, a huge study out of Brigham Young University, using data from 3.5 million people collected over 35 years, found that those who fall into the categories of loneliness, isolation, or even simply living on their own, increase their risk of premature death by 26 to 32 percent.
Now consider that in the United States, nearly a third of people older than 65 live alone, and by age 85, the figure has jumped to about half. Add all of this up, and it’s clear why the US surgeon general is declaring loneliness to be a public health epidemic; and it is no better here in Australia.
The institute of family studies in Australia said in David de Vaus and Lixia Qu study from 2015
- There was no growth in one-person households from the First World War till the end of the Second World War.
- Since the end of the Second World War the percentage of one-person households has increased in Australia by 300% – from 8% in 1946 to 24% in 2011.
Many men won’t admit they’re starved for friendship, even if all signs point to the contrary. So what can you do?
Over the next few weeks we will look at some of the options available – so stay tuned.