Tim’s blog: Scientists Say Loneliness Hurts Physical Health

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘I just had to share these moving words from a researcher from Ohio State University, Dr Lisa Jaremka, which were quoted today in a BBC article pointing out that loneliness is damaging to physical as well as mental health.

‘Dr Jaremka said, “It was a struggle for a long time for physicians to recognise the importance of loneliness in health. We now know how important it is to understand patients’ social worlds. We need to find ways to help lonely people.

‘”Unfortunately we can’t tell anyone to go out and find someone to love you. We need to create support networks.”

‘Moving words from a doctor currently researching levels of cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’, in people who are lonely and who have good support networks. Her thesis, and that of other doctors working at the University of Chicago and Ohio State University, is that social isolation leads to changes in the immune system. This causes a dangerous boost in cortisol production, and a condition called chronic inflammation which shortens life.

‘We’ve already known since 2006 that women who see few friends and family are up to five times more likely to die from breast cancer than women with good support networks. This is sobering news, but something that WaveLength and many others working with vulnerable people have long suspected. We hope that we can help in a small way with our TVs and radios.

‘Dr Jaremka said, “Being lonely means not feeling connected or cared for, it’s not about being physically alone.” Of course, a TV or radio can’t care for someone, but it can keep them connected – and bring a little comfort and companionship along too.

’This new research came to me at a time when I’m campaigning to make sure that vulnerable people in circumstances conducive to loneliness and isolation keep their access to radio. In the event of a radio switch to digital, we don’t want people who are homeless, fleeing domestic violence, leaving care, mentally ill or learning disabled to be left behind as they were by the inadequate digital TV switchover help scheme. Because loneliness is dangerous, both mentally and physically, and we have a duty to curb it wherever we can.’