Can Loneliness Really Kill You? Science Thinks So

No one likes being lonely, but it doesn’t just feel bad, it can be bad FOR you. In fact, a 2017 recent study performed by Brigham Young University in Utah claims that loneliness can be deadlier than obesity. The American Psychological Association backs up those findings, which is a pretty scary thought. So can being lonely actually kill you? That all depends.

  1. Just because it’s science doesn’t mean it’s perfect. I’m not a scientist but I did study English in college, meaning that I understand the importance of words. I’m not questioning the science behind these studies, I just think they need to refine some of their language. For instance, the definition of “lonely” can mean different things to different people and doesn’t always indicate serious, life-threatening despair.
  2. There have been other studies that refute these findings. People with higher IQs, for example, don’t always require or desire as much social interaction as others. They find satisfaction through other intellectually-stimulating means. The studies listed above fail to mention any sort of exceptions to the rule, as always.
  3. They compare being alone to a form of punishment. As an introvert, I actually cherish the time I have to myself. I’m not altogether well-versed in navigating complex social cues, so stripping off any personas (along with my bra) when I get home is pure bliss to me. While the studies do mention the possible consequences of extreme loneliness, what purpose do they have for using these outlandish examples to explain something the general population probably will never have to face? We aren’t forced into a box with no means of outside communication; most of us choose this for ourselves.
  4. Since when is living alone a bad thing? Coming from someone who has lived with her family and/or roommates for most of her life, I can tell you that living alone is the best thing ever. I can walk around naked, fill the fridge with whatever food I like, and keep the temperature as cold as I want it to be. If anything, living with other people can be incredibly stressful, which isn’t good for your health either. It all comes down to personal choice.
  5. How do these studies even prove that loneliness is the direct cause of poor health? The most you can say is that there’s a correlation. It’s impossible to sit there and say that being lonely is the reason you’re unhealthy. Perhaps it’s because you’re less active when you’re alone or the fact that loneliness can lead to depression, but I fail to see how you can definitively say that one affects another without considering an individual’s lifestyle, for example.
  6. With social media, the definition of social interaction has been reinvented. With our wide social circles being literally at our fingertips, it’s very easy to find someone to talk to when you want to alleviate any symptoms of loneliness. If you want to strike up a conversation with a stranger about something you enjoy, there’s an app (or a chatroom) for that. Granted, nothing beats face-to-face communication, but with our technology, we’re never truly alone.
  7. Being alone and loneliness aren’t the same thing. This research centers around people who aren’t married, live alone, and are socially isolated, but you can be surrounded by people and also feel incredibly lonely. This phenomenon is not something that’s mentioned anywhere in these studies. It makes assumptions and generalizes that loneliness is the same for everyone.
  8. It IS true that our social skills are getting worse. While I believe the study gets a lot of things wrong, it does get some things right. As human beings, social interaction is a “fundamental human need.” That part hasn’t and will never change, and social media does have a negative effect on our social skills. Talking to someone online is significantly different than talking to someone right in front of you. We need to be able to pick up on nonverbal social cues to function as a society.
  9. Incorporating more social skill training would be great. Whether you feel lonely or not is irrelevant when it comes to social skills because you have to develop them regardless. Dr. Holt-Lunstad, the pioneer behind these findings, suggests that children can benefit greatly from some training in their formative years and doctors should include social connectedness in medical screening. Other professions, such as teaching and law enforcement, would do well with a reminder about how to talk to people effectively as well. The good doctor also makes it a point to recommend retirees to prepare for both the social and financial aspects of their retirements, especially because much of our social interaction happens at work.
  10. Further studies should definitely be done on this topic. We will always need our social circles to thrive, there’s no doubt about that. Additionally, feeling lonely, especially for prolonged periods of time, can heavily impact our minds and bodies. After all, there are hormones that our body produces when we are around humans or when we have sex, so a deficiency in these hormones probably has some sort of effect on the body. I believe that the caution Dr. Holt-Lunstad has in regards to this “loneliness epidemic” is warranted, but using outdated understandings of loneliness and excluding the people who don’t fit into these molds is a detriment to this otherwise solid research.
Ginnifer Bronstein is a freelance writer from New York. She enjoys writing about relationships, entertainment, and fiction. Her goal in life is to travel the world and be an accomplished writer, but she'll settle for stopping and smelling the roses.