In recent years, exacerbated by the COVID-19 public health pandemic and the ongoing rise and popularity of social media, America has been facing a loneliness epidemic. Despite being more connected than ever through technology and specifically social media platforms, people are feeling increasingly isolated and disconnected from each other and their communities. This issue, no doubt reaching epidemic levels, has serious consequences for individuals and society as a whole, and it is important to understand its causes, repercussions, and potential solutions.
The Root Causes of America’s Loneliness Epidemic
Breakdown of Traditional Social Structures
One of the main causes of America’s rising loneliness epidemic is the breakdown of traditional social structures that for years were a foundation in American society. In the past, people were more likely to live in close-knit communities where they knew their neighbors and had regular interactions with them. However, as people have become more reliant on technology for their interests, entertainment, and social interaction, individuals have moved slowly away from social interaction, become more individualistic, and these long-standing communities have broken down. Previously, people worked in their communities, children played in their neighborhood, and social interaction occurred and strong bonds were formed between neighbors and those within close proximity of their community. However, things have changed from that former social structure, as people move more frequently, work and learn virtually, and they are less likely to know their neighbors or participate in community activities. This lack of social connection can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Human connection is key in creating feelings of comfort, belonging, and happiness. As society removes the structure and behaviors that lead to human connection, individuals invariably become isolated and disconnected and become overwhelmed by loneliness.
The Rise of “Connectivity” and Social Media
Another factor contributing to America’s loneliness epidemic is the rise of global technology connectivity and social media. While these tools can help people stay connected with others or up-to-date with breaking news, they can also create a sense of disconnection. Individuals these days are spending hours scrolling through social media feeds, watching videos, or playing online games, but they may not have meaningful interactions with others. Apps allow people to do almost anything, anywhere, at any time, removing much of the necessity of human interaction. Even dating, through apps, has gone digital and virtual. Additionally, social media has the ability to create an often-dangerous sense of envy and competition, as people compare their lives to others’ highlight reels, and arousing feelings of jealousy and creating issues of low self-esteem. This can ultimately lead to feelings of inadequacy and isolation, which in turns pushes people further and further away from creating meaningful human interactions and increasing feelings of loneliness and despair.
This has all created an interesting social structure, where individuals have limited connections or friendships with people in their real lives, but feel connected to individuals they never met online. Politics, social justice issues, and gossip or drama related “news” align people with like-minded views online, creating a false sense of friendship or intimacy. People can begin to feel close to others they may have never met, without having a meaningful conversation or true friendships with anyone in their actual everyday lives. However, as these types of connections increase, when people take a step back and observe their life, or are forced to spend any actual time with themselves without the distraction of the internet, television, or other technology outlet, they may begin to truly feel and understand the depths of their loneliness.
Effects of Loneliness on the Population
Therefore, America’s loneliness epidemic has serious consequences for individuals and American society as a whole. Multiple studies have shown that loneliness can have negative effects on both physical and mental health. Emotional and spiritual health are also clearly negatively impacted by isolation and loneliness. People who are lonely are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. They are also more likely to have chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Additionally, loneliness can lead to social isolation, which can make it difficult for people to access resources and support when they need it. Being isolated and feeling lonely make it that much more difficult for people to reach out when they are struggling in any area of their life, especially with addiction issues, mental health issues, or thoughts or suicide. The cycle compounds when someone who suffering from loneliness is unable to reach out for help, making the thoughts of loneliness worse, deepening the depression and anxiety, and potentially risking making any ongoing mental health issues worse.
The loneliness epidemic specifically has a horrible impact upon America’s ongoing addiction crisis. Addition, by nature, is a disease of isolation. People in active addiction feel emotionally that no one truly knows how they feel, what they deal with, and what it’s like to be them as a person or live their life and deal with its difficulties. People in active addiction often use drugs or drink alone, and over the course of their addiction or alcoholism, push away family, friends, and loved ones. Therefore, the societal shift of move isolation and the current epidemic of isolation experienced within American society only helps to fuel and further America’s addiction crisis.
Potential Solutions to America’s Loneliness Epidemic
So, can anything be done to address America’s loneliness epidemic? There are some larger and smaller scale potential solutions to consider. Here are some ideas or options to help overcome loneliness and combat America’s loneliness epidemic:
- Focus on building stronger communities. People should be encouraged to go out and connect- connect with neighbors, friends, and family. Be mindful of human interaction and intentional in making sure you are seeing people that matter to you. Engage in community events and activities. Make sure your children are putting down their phones and tablets and interacting with the other children in the neighborhood. Attend events, go to dinner with friends, have a weekly family gathering.
- Be mindful, intentional, and assertive in creating human connection. This can mean setting a time with friends and family to connect, such as a Friday night family dinner or a Tuesday night evening with friends. Instead of connecting online, go out to an activity. However, it’s important to set aside specific time regularly to reach out and connect with the people that you love and mean something to you. In it vital to make sure that you are planning in-person social gatherings that will create connection and support feeling a part of something bigger than yourself.
- Give back. Muhammad Ali’s famous quote of “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here in earth” absolutely applies. As humans, we are filled up when we lead with love and service. So, take time for service and give back. Volunteer to help members in your community, coach a child’s sports team, give of your time and attention. Additionally, try to regularly find ways to serve and support those people in your life. If a friend needs help with something, offer to help. Be mindful of opportunities to give back and lead with service.
- Put down the technology. Television, streaming services, social media, videos, video games and other forms of social interaction and social networking are often all now done online. There is no escaping it, but it is also vital to remember that if we do not be mindful of the pitfalls of technology, we will ultimately suffer from the negative consequences it can create. So be mindful of your time on your phone or watching television, and if need be, set limits for yourself. People can easily find themselves down a rabbit hole, spending hours on TikTok or Instagram or binge watching a show on Netflix, and then realize they’ve been doing it for hours on end. If need be, set a schedule. Understand that it’s absolutely okay to unwind and relax, but that too much time on technology has a negative effect on our combined mental health. More technology means more loneliness, so it’s important to understand the risk, access accordingly, and create structure and limits. It is more important to connect with each other in real life, in person, where we can be genuine and authentic, than it is to watch fun videos or reals online. It is important to do so in order to not become overwhelmed by loneliness, but rather to increase our connections, our happiness, our sense of purpose, our joy, and our overall enjoyment of life.
Dual Diagnosis Addiction Treatment in Maryland
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual-diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. Please give us a call at (866) 929-4318 or email our team at [email protected].