Loneliness in the digital age is becoming 'public health issue' experts say

NEWTON, Mass. — You would think because of social media, we are more connected than ever. But that’s not the case.

Dr. Richard Schwartz is an expert in the field. He and his wife, Dr. Jacqueline Olds, are both psychiatry professors at Harvard Medical School.

"Even though it looks like people on their screens are the most connected people in the world, they are often feeling more and more left out and lonely," Dr. Schwartz said.

Together, Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Olds co-wrote a book called “The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century.”

"Everyone feels lonely once in a while, so it’s really a question of whether it persists," Dr. Olds said.

The American Psychological Association reports that more than 42 million adults over the age of 45 in the U.S. suffer from chronic loneliness.

Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan calls loneliness a public health crisis. She moderated a panel Wednesday afternoon at Newton-Wellesley Hospital to discuss the effects of loneliness.

"We’ve had a tragic increase in the number of suicides across all demographics," Ryan said. "Not all of them are attributed to loneliness, but there is that component in that moment that seems to be the best way to deal with whatever’s been happening.”

According to a recent study by Cigna, today's young adults appear to be the loneliest generations at more than 48 percent listing it as a problem.

The study responses:
Generation Z (1995-2015)  - 48% 
Millennials (1980-1994) - 45%
Generation X  (1965-1979) - 45%
Baby Boomers (1944-1964) - 42%
The Silent Generation (1910-1924) - 38%
Courtesy: Cigna

"In terms of public health issues, it is immense and only over the last couple decades have people begun to realize how much it matters," Dr. Schwartz said.

Dr. Schwartz says the best way to combat loneliness is to acknowledge it, then pick up a phone, talk to somebody, and, if possible, join a club or organization.