Anime is stereotyped as a lonely hobby, and fans often joke about filling a void with 2D characters. Whether these messages are true or not depends on your personal situation, but researchers have made an alarming discovery: loneliness is deadly.
A team of U.S. researchers poured over 218 studies that involved the health effects of loneliness involving nearly 4 million people. They discovered that obesity increases the likelihood of an early death by 30% but loneliness increases the chance of an early death by 50%. Lead author Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad believes loneliness should be considered a public health hazard.
The researchers discovered that infants under custodial care, with limited human contact, tend to die at a faster rate. Adults claiming to have no friends have increased levels of a blood-clotting protein, which can cause heart attacks and stroke – the two largest causes of death for lonely people.
The UK’s Campaign to End Loneliness states that 17% of older people only have social interactions once a week and 10% will go a month at a time without seeing loved ones. Director Laura Alcock-Ferguson said, “Meaningful social connections are essential for human happiness.”
Despite the new data, scientists are still unsure how loneliness is leading to increased deaths. It’s theorized that the mental stress paired with ignoring one’s own health is the culprit. This is because loneliness is historically used as punishment and kicks on a person’s “flight or fight” signal. Being in a constant state of stress increases a blood-clotting protein called fibrinogen, which helps slow bleeding when wounding. However, too much can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Spending meaningful time with family, friends, and neighbors is important in lowering stress levels. But the number in your real life social network also matters. Researchers learned that having less than 15 personal connections has the same health impact as smoking cigarettes.
The researchers proposed social training skills for school children, and encouraging gatherings at recreational centers or public gardens. Dr. Holt-Lunstad comments, “Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need—crucial to both well-being and survival.”