Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, loneliness was already rife in Australia. In 2019, one in four Australians felt they lacked companionship for three or more days per week, while nearly fifty-five per cent of Australians felt lonely at least sometimes. This number is likely to be much higher in recent times due to the necessities of lock downs and social distancing.

So how does social isolation impact your health? Unfortunately, the answer is quite alarming.

Loneliness suppresses our immune system

If you notice a particular person (or you yourself) are often sick, this may be a sign that they are struggling with loneliness. Feelings of social isolation and loneliness puts us at a higher risk for all kinds of illnesses and diseases, as it can impair the ability of our immune system to function properly. In 2015, psychology professor John T. Cacioppo and his research team in the US studied the expression of genes in white blood cells and discovered that people who felt lonely had greater inflammation and a generally weaker immune response.

Social isolation negatively impacts our sleep

Feelings of loneliness and social isolation are key indicators that a person has fragmented sleep patterns and does not feel rested, according to a 2011 study conducted by researchers in South Dakota. The study reached this conclusion after studying the sleep patterns of nearly 100 people, while at the same time asking these people to answer questionnaires about feelings of anxiety and social isolation. So if you or someone you know are often sleepy through the day and generally do not feel rested, this is another sign that you may be impacted by the effects of social isolation.

Loneliness is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day

Research connecting the harmful effects of social isolation and loneliness on our health and longevity are well established, and perhaps most alarmingly, research has discovered that lacking companionship and meaningful social interactions is as damaging to our health as smoking fifteen cigarettes per day! Researchers have also found that the effect of loneliness on mortality is similar to other risk factors such as obesity.

Social isolation and loneliness is widespread around the world, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. A New York Times report in 2013 revealed that loneliness increases stress hormone levels and inflammation, being detrimental to health and as a result can increase the risk of arthritis, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and even suicide attempts.

But we can make a change

Knowledge is power, and armed with this research we can be more proactive about identifying signs of loneliness in our community, and ensuring that people who are feeling lonely are receiving the support they need for their overall health and wellbeing. For more helpful tips, you can read our article on six ways to combat feelings of loneliness.

If you are feeling socially isolated, vulnerable or lonely, Like Family can help. Our team are passionate about ending loneliness for any reason such as ageing, illness or disability. Our Social Carers are not health care workers, they are everyday people, incredible people, who want to make a difference in their community. Our Social Carers have a wide range of skills and go through a rigorous vetting and on-boarding process, including an online values test, police checks, reference checks and a face-to-face induction to ensure they meet our standards. To choose a Social Carer in your local area with the same interests as you, sign up as a Member now and take advantage of our competitive $40 per hour flat rate including weekends and public holidays.