MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Doug Nemecek, MD MPH
Co-chair National Quality Improvement Committee
Senior medical director for CIGNA
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: We know that approximately 1 in 6 adults in the U.S. suffer from a mental health condition, and research has noted that mental health issues are one of the most rapidly increasing causes of long-term sick leave. But when looking closer, we found that most people with mental health or chronic conditions have a similar pathology: they also suffer from loneliness. It’s clear that loneliness has a tremendous impact on health – it actually has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We decided we needed to learn more.
The key takeaway from our research is that most Americans are considered lonely, as measured by a score of 43 or higher on the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Specifically, we found that nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out, and one in four Americans rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them. We also discovered that younger adults are lonelier and claim to be in worse health than older generations.
However, our survey revealed several bright spots that reinforce the social nature of humans and the importance of community. Our results showed that people who report being less lonely are more likely to have regular, meaningful, in-person interactions; be in good overall physical and mental health; and have found a balance in their daily activities, including getting the right amount of sleep, socialization and work/life balance. We also hypothesized that the workplace played a role in this. It turns out that we were right – being employed and having good relationships with your co-workers is correlated with being less lonely and being more healthy.
MedicalResearch.com: Does social media contribute to the sense of isolation or loneliness? Is any particular age or ethnic group particularly impacted?
Response: In an interesting departure from current thinking, social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness. Survey respondents who were very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score that is not much different from the score of those who never use social media.
However, we did find that older generations are both less likely to be lonely and less likely to be heavy users of social media while younger generations (e.g., Generation Z) are more likely to be lonely and more likely to be heavy users of social media.
Similarly, we did not observe major differences between males and females or across races and ethnic groups – reinforcing that loneliness has become present for the majority of us.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: First and foremost, we want readers to understand the importance of human interaction and communities to being less lonely. It was clear from our research that people who engage in frequent meaningful in-person interactions – such as having a conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family – have much lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely interact with others face-to-face. We also found that getting the right balance of sleep, work, socializing with friends, family and “me time” is key to being less lonely.
Armed with this research, we’re focused on addressing the loneliness epidemic and improving Americans’ overall mental wellness and vitality. As a first step, we are calling on other like-minded organizations to join Cigna in the fight against the epidemic. We also understand that loneliness has a profound impact on the workplace in terms of productivity. To help employers address this pressing issue, we’ll be convening a group of our clients to discuss steps that can be taken and potential solutions to improve vitality and address loneliness in the workplace. We hope that by working together, a group of companies and organizations can develop solutions that help improve vitality and reduce feelings of loneliness for Americans.
Put simply, if everyone who comes into contact with these findings can take the first step of reaching out and connecting or reconnecting with someone, that would make this research incredibly meaningful.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: If you or someone you know is feeling lonely, it’s important to reach out and make a connection. Cigna has several programs already in place to help address loneliness, for Cigna customers and non-customers. We encourage everyone to visit http://Cigna.com to review our survey results and learn more about steps you or your patients can take to live healthier, less lonely lives.
New Cigna Study Reveals Loneliness at Epidemic Levels in America
Research Puts Spotlight on the Impact of Loneliness in the U.S. and Potential Root Causes
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