IS LONELINESS LIFE THREATENING?

A new study asserts that loneliness could be hazardous to your health, and warns that if left untreated, it can lead to heart disease, cancer and even death. We have the details.

Aired on May 30, 2018.

TRANSCRIPT

> IT'S THE BIG APPLE.

THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS.

AND EVEN THE CAPITOL OF THE WORLD.

NEW YORK CITY.

OVER 8 MILLION STRONG.

BUT AMONGST OUR NEIGHBORS THE PEOPLE WE WORK WITH WALK THE STREETS WITH AND COMMUTE WITH THERE WAS A GROWING EPIDEMIC OF LONELINESS.

ACCORDING TO A RECENT STUDY BY A CIGNA INSURANCE NEARLY HALF OF ALL AMERICANS FEEL ALONE AND THE IMPACT OF THEIR LONELINESS IS FAR GREATER THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT.

SO JOINING ME NOW WITH INSIGHT IS NYU SOCIOLOGIST ERIC REYNEN BURGER, THE AUTHOR OF GOING SOLO.

ERIC WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU IT'S NICE TO BE HERE.

SO, FIRST, TO BEGIN WITH, THIS IS NEW YORK CITY.

HOW IS IT IN A CITY OF 8 MILLION CAN PEOPLE FEEL LONELY?

WELL, ONE OF THE THINGS ABOUT LIVING IN A BIG CITY IS THAT EVEN IF YOU HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS YOU ARE CONSTANTLY SURROUNDED BY STRANGERS.

SO IF YOU LIVE IN A SMALL TOWN YOU MIGHT KNOW FEWER PEOPLE BUT YOU KNOW JUST ABOUT ALL THE PEOPLE YOU WALK BY IN THE STREETS.

WHEN YOU'RE ON THE SUBWAY OR WALKING DOWN A BIG AVENUE, YOU CAN FEEL PROFOUNDLY ALONE AND SO MODERN CITIES HAVE ALWAYS GIVEN PEOPLE THAT FEELING.

BUT HOW MUCH OF THIS IS NEW YORKERS OWN MAKING.

IT'S A GREAT QUESTION.

AND LET ME BE CLEAR THAT THERE IS A REAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIVING ALONE OR BEING ALONE AND FEELING LONELY.

SO RIGHT NOW AN EXTRAORDINARY NUMBER OF PEOPLE HAVE THEIR OWN APARTMENTS.

AND YOU'RE RIGHT.

THEY GET THEIR OWN APARTMENTS BECAUSE THEY CAN AFFORD IT.

THEY GO TO THE RESTAURANT BY THEMSELVES BECAUSE THEY FEEL COMFORTABLE DOING THAT.

AND IT'S OUR AFFLUENCE AND SUCCESS THAT ALLOWS PEOPLE TO LIVE WITHOUT THE TRADITIONAL SOURCES OF SOCIAL SUPPORTS.

BUT AT THE SAME TIME AT SOME POINT YOU CAN START TO FEEL LONELY IF YOU FAIL TO MAKE THE CONNECTIONS THAT ALL OF US NEED TO BE HAPPY IN LIFE.

SO NO MATTER HOW WEALTHY YOU ARE IF YOU ISOLATE YOURSELF YOU'LL FEEL THE PENNSYLVANIA PAIN.

SEWS DOES SOCIAL MEDIA PLAY A ROLE?

SOME HAVE SAID WE SPEND SO MUCH TIME LOOKING AT OUR PHONES AND NOT UP AT PEOPLE WE'VE LOST THE ABILITY TO MAKE A CONNECTION.

ALL OF US HAD THE EXPERIENCE WHERE YOU'RE WITH A PERSON AND THEY SEEM CONSTANTLY DISTRACTED.

AND SOCIAL LIFE CAN BE UNSATISFACTORYING PROCESS THE PEOPLE YOU'RE WITH IS ALWAYS LOOKING FOR SOME OTHER STIMULATION THAT MAKES ALL OF US FEEL WE'RE FOR THE GETTING WHAT WE NEED.

THAT SAID, THE BEST RESEARCH WE HAVE RIGHT NOW TELLS US THAT THE HEAVY QUEST USERS OF SOCIAL MEDIA WILL ALSO THE HEAVIEST IRIS OF FACE-TO-FACE INTERACTIONS.

THEY'RE PEOPLE WITH A HEALTHY APPETITE FOR SOCIAL LIFE.

AND THIS STUDY THAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT TODAY SURPRISED MANY PEOPLE.

BECAUSE IT SHOWED THAT THE MOST ACTIVE USERS OF SOCIAL MEDIA WERE NOT MORE LONELY THAN PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST USING IT A LITTLE BIT.

THAT DOESN'T REALLY SEEM TO BE THE DRIVER OF THIS.

SO THIS IS ONE THING WE CAN'T BLAME AND FACEBOOK.

JUST ONE.

ONE THING.

ALL RIGHT.

SO BREAK DOWN FOR ME, IF YOU WILL, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PHYSICAL HEALTH DETRIMENTS THAT COME FROM BEING LONELY, FROM FEELING ALONE AND BEING LONELY.

WELL WE NOW KNOW THAT FEELING LONELY IS NOT JUST A MINOR ANNOYANCE IF IT GETS CARRIED AWAY.

IF YOU FEEL JUST LIKE A LITTLE BIT OF LONELINESS.

THAT'S ACTUALLY YOUR BODY GIVING YOU A CUE YOU NEED TO GO OUT IN THE WORLD AND MAKE STRONGER CONNECTIONS.

YOU NEED TO HAVE BETTER SOCIAL SUPPORT.

AND SO YOU CAN HAVE A HEALTHY DOES OF DON'TLINESS BUT IT CAN BE DANGEROUS WE IT BECOMES SEVERE AND CONSTANT.

BECAUSE LONELINESS CAN LEAD TO WITHDRAWAL, SOCIAL WITHDRAWAL AND ALSO TO DEPRESSION.

THAT DEPRESSION CAN LEAD YOU TO BE MORE ISOLATED.

IT CAN ELEVATE YOUR STRESS.

AND THAT CAN LEAD TO DIABETES.

INCREASE THE INCIDENCE OF CANCER.

MAKE YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO COMMIT SUICIDE.

AND SO MEDICAL DOCTORS ARE INCREASINGLY CONVINCED THAT LONELINESS IS IN AND OF ITSELF A HEALTH PROBLEM THAT WE SHOULD ALL TAKE MORE SERIOUSLY.

BUT ON THE FLIP SIDE, THOUGH, BECAUSE IN YOUR BOOK GOING SOLO YOU TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF DOING THINGS SOLO.

THAT'S RIGHT.

AND HERE AGAIN WE HAVE TO MAKE A DISTINCTION BETWEEN SOL ATTITUDE WHICH CAN BE VERY PRODUCTIVE AND HEALTHY AND PROFOUND LONELINESS WHICH CAN BE DESTRUCTIVE.

I THINK WE LIVE AT A TIME NOW WHERE WE'RE ALL SO HYPERCONNECTED, ON OUR PHONES ALL THE TIME, CONSTANTLY COMMUNICATING WITH PEOPLE, ENTERTAINING OURSELVES, AND WE HAVE LOST A LITTLE BIT OF OUR ABILITY TO CHECK OUT.

AND THINK ABOUT HOW WE'RE LIVING OUR LIVES, ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIPS, ABOUT WHAT WE WANT AND WHAT WE NEED TO BE HAPPIER.

AND IN FACT IT'S HAVING THAT SAL ATTITUDE AND MAKING USE OF IT THAT ALLOWS US TO LIVE MORE RICHLY AND TO DISCOVER WHAT IT IS THAT WE REALLY WANT.

ALL RIGHT.

WELL, IF THERE IS ANYTHING THAT YOU WOULD WANT PEOPLE TO TAKE AWAY FROM, ESPECIALLY SOMEONE WHO MIGHT BE SORT OF ON THAT CUSP WHERE YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH THE FEELINGS, ANXIETY FEELINGS OF LONELINESS YET AT THE SAME TIME YOU DO ENJOY THE FACT THAT YOU FINALLY DON'T HAVE ROOMMATES.

WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO BE THE TAKE AWAY OF THE EPIDEMIC OF LOEPLYNESS FOR I THINK MOST OF NEWS THAT AREA.

WELL, FIRST OF ALL, I WOULD SAY I ACTUALLY DON'T THINK THERE IS AN EPIDEMIC OF LOEPLYNESS.

I THINK WE'RE JUST ABOUT AS LEPLY AS WE'VE ALWAYS BEEN IN MODERN CITIES.

I'M A LITTLE CAUTIOUS ABOUT EACH NEW REPORT BECAUSE THEY TEND TO SHOW RESULTS ALL OVER THE MAP.

I THINK WE'RE NOT NOT NECESSARILY LONELIER THAN WE'VE EVER BEEN.

BUT WHAT WE FEEL LENLY IT'S SERIOUS AND IMPORTANT.

AND YOU SHOULD KNOW IF YOU FEEL LONELY THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

THIS IS A SITUATION THAT'S SHARED BY MANY PEOPLE AND THERE IS SUPPORT THERE.

ERIC, LISTEN, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US ON THE PROGRAM.

AND GIVING US SOME INSIGHT INTO HOW TO HANDLE SOME OF THESE ISSUES THAT WE ALL WRESTLE WITH IN A CITY LIKE NEW YORK.

THANKS, IT'S BEEN MY PLEASURE.

THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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