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Loneliness’s Effect on Mental and Physical Health

Americans with mental health issues are more than twice as likely to be lonely than those without a mental health concern. According to a recent study by Cigna, 58% of U.S. adults are considered lonely.

Health and Loneliness

This study also found Individuals suffering from physical or mental health issues are approximately 50% more likely to be lonely than those with better health.

Among individuals classified as lonely:

  • 24% report sleep disorders

  • 15% report weight-related problems or complications

  • 9% report neurological disorders

  • 9% report substance abuse

  • 8% report kidney or urologic problems

Likewise, a study reported by the CDC found loneliness to increase the risk of serious mental and physical health conditions and even death in older adults.

  • Loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.

  • Poor social relationships, characterized by social isolation or loneliness, are associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.

  • Lonely individuals with heart failure have nearly four times the risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization and 57% increased risk of ER visits.

Seniors vs. Young Adults

It’s widely recognized that seniors living alone often experience loneliness, but it’s actually young adults who experience loneliness the most.

The study revealed that 42% of young adults 18-34 report always feeling left out. Yet only 16% of older adults, 55+, report the same.

It’s theorized that young adults may be vulnerable to loneliness because they feel disconnected from their peers and social groups after graduating or leaving school. College students may struggle to adapt to their new environment and academic challenges while trying to connect with fellow students. It’s during these times when these individuals are making important decisions, such as their desired career path and lifestyle. These life-changing decisions can be stressful and enforce a sense of isolation.

Another interesting and counterintuitive finding is that individuals with children are likelier to be lonely than those without children. This fact further proves that loneliness is independent of being in the presence of other people. The Cigna study found:

  • More than 77% of single parents struggle with loneliness.

  • Parents and guardians are classified as lonely 10% more often than non-parents.

  • 42% of lonely parents report feeling left out, compared to 24% of lonely non-parents.

  • Mothers are 7% more likely to be considered lonely than fathers.

Studies show the relationship between a parent’s loneliness and its effects on their child often depends on the sex of the parent and the child. One study found that a father’s loneliness is predictive of his son’s loneliness and a mother’s loneliness is predictive of her daughter’s. What's more, a mother’s loneliness is associated with her daughter’s problem-solving ability, tendency to internalize problems, social competence, fear of negative evaluation and social anxiety.

Depression and Loneliness

A UK study found loneliness and depression to be directly correlated.

The study found that the higher an individual placed the loneliness score, the more severe the symptoms of depression. What’s more, the risk of depression persists for up to 12 years after experiencing loneliness.

  • Each one-point increase on the study’s loneliness scale is linked with a 16% increase in an individual’s average depressive symptom severity score on the study’s scale.

  • Depressive symptoms increase over time among individuals with higher loneliness scores, indicating that loneliness can cause future depression.

  • Loneliness was linked to approximately one in five cases of depression one year later.

  • The effect of loneliness decrease with time but is still associated with one in 10 cases after 12 years.

These findings show that loneliness is not reserved for seniors or those living alone. Loneliness is experienced by people of all ages and can have lasting effects on the mind and the body. As more research examines the impact of loneliness on different populations, the seriousness of this far-reaching problem may be brought to light and addressed.


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