The personal anguish of those who long for meaningful ties has social causes – and social and economic costs
Lacking social connection is as dangerous to health as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day and twice as risky as consuming six alcoholic drinks daily. This is the stark warning from the US surgeon-general, Vivek Murthy, who has released an advisory urging public officials to take loneliness as seriously as matters such as obesity or drug abuse.
Up to one in four people in the US report experiencing prolonged loneliness, while in the UK, 6% of people said they felt lonely “often” or “always” in the year to September 2022, and 19% reported feeling that way “sometimes”. Analysis published last year suggested that loneliness “at a problematic level” was a global issue. The evidence that it is damaging physical as well as mental health has amassed steadily, with one overview of 70 studies finding that it put people at 26% higher risk of early mortality. The impact on public services and the economy (research has suggested it costs employers in the UK as much as £2.5bn a year) is prompting governments to take some interest in what had previously been regarded as a private problem.