Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat.

Email, text, instant messages, cellphone calls.

There are more ways than ever to connect with others — yet many of us know the hollow ache of loneliness.

Loneliness isn’t constrained by age, gender, marital status or job title. CEOs feel it. So do cubicle dwellers. As do new moms, granddads, recent college grads and elementary school students.

Even royalty isn’t immune. Duchess Kate of Cambridge said in April that she has felt lonely and isolated as a mother.

And yes, some of those Facebook friends who continually post photos of bar outings and extended family gatherings may be quite lonely, too.

The prevalence of loneliness “is surprisingly high,” says John Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, who has studied the topic extensively.

Loneliness can have negative effects on one’s mental and physical health. (May is Mental Health Month.) As a society, we’ve put increased emphasis on emotional well-being, yet loneliness remains a major issue.  Last week,  the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on the effect of isolation and loneliness. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said, “The consequences of isolation and loneliness are severe — negative health outcomes, higher health care costs and even death.”

In 2015, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, one of President Obama’s appointees who was recently asked to step down, pointed out the health dangers that can come from “isolation, lack of meaning and a loss of self-worth.”

What is loneliness, exactly?  Most of us have felt it in some form or another. It’s the feeling that arises when there is a gap between social interactions you want and reality. It’s feeling separated, even alienated, and can last for a short stretch or a prolonged period of time. It’s important to note that you can feel lonely “even when you are around other people,” Cacioppo says.

Loneliness is an issue that spans all age groups in one way or another. In newly released data, the U.K.’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children says that in the past year,  it counseled nearly 4,100 children and teens who grappled with loneliness. Some who needed help were as young as 6.

“I’ve thought about ending my life because I think it’s pointless me being here,” said one anonymous 15-year-old in a transcript provided by the NSPCC. “I don’t feel like anyone cares about me, and I’m lonely all the time.”

A 16-year-old said, “I don’t feel like I fit in anywhere, and I have no friends. I hate being this unhappy, but I can’t control it. I feel so alone. Whenever I think about the future, I get scared that I’ll always be by myself because I’m not good-looking or funny enough.”

That scary future of loneliness is a reality for many older adults. Almost half of Americans age 62 and up  experience some degree of loneliness, according to a new AARP Foundation survey. Two in 10  say their loneliness is frequent.

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SOURCE: Laura Petrecca
USA TODAY