Loneliness is a growing threat to public health that can affect both physical and mental well-being, and research shows that it has the same impact on death rates as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Right here in Denver, most people are considered lonely. That’s the conclusion of an eye-opening survey by Cigna. It revealed that more than half (52 percent) of people in greater Denver say they sometimes or always feel no one really knows them well, while 38 percent say they sometimes or always feel that their relationships with others are not meaningful.
What’s more, those of us who aren’t married are lonelier than our married neighbors, and those of us with lower incomes are lonelier than those with higher incomes.
The Cigna survey, which used the UCLA Loneliness Index as a measure, shows that people who have frequent and meaningful in-person interactions have lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely connect personally with others.
Having the right amount of sleep, work, friend and family time, as well as “me time,” are all connected to lower loneliness scores. Balance is essential, because people who get too little or too much of these activities have higher loneliness scores.
The survey results underscore the connection between physical, mental and social well-being and highlight the importance of integrated health care. At Cigna, we encourage employers to offer a wide range of integrated health benefits to their employees — medical, dental, mental health and pharmacy — because people are complex with many interconnected needs.
Our physical health and mental health are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other.
The key to achieving good health is understanding the interconnectedness of our social, emotional and physical dimensions. If social isolation is making you depressed, and your depression prevents you from adequately managing your diabetes, it’s unlikely you will enjoy good physical health.
Likewise, having a chronic illness might lead to anxiety, depression or social isolation. We must look at the whole person. When we do, we are more successful at helping people live better, healthier, more productive lives.
Are you feeling lonely or disconnected, or wondering what the UCLA Loneliness Index might reveal about you? You can take an abbreviated, 10-question version on Cigna.com. Invite people you know to take it, too. Starting a conversation about loneliness and how it can affect one’s health is an important first step.
John Roble is president of Cigna Mountain States. Cigna® is a global health service company that helps individuals improve their health, well-being and peace of mind.