Loneliness is a public health epidemic, report says

For the elderly, major life changes can be risk factors.

CALIFORNIA, USA — Young people aren’t the only ones affected by mental health issues.

A new report reveals that loneliness and isolation in older adults is a new public health epidemic and that building social connections must be a priority, like other health issues.

A Kaiser Permanente expert says the consequences are real, but sometimes simple actions can make a big difference.

“It’s isolation, but it impacts your mind, your spirit, your body,” said Katie Freeny, a licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser.

25% of American seniors are in isolation, and a quarter of California’s population is expected to be over 60 by 2030. That’s a staggering number that hasn’t been helped by the pandemic.

“I think what we’re seeing is people are really having a hard time reconnecting,” Freeny said.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. A recent report released by the Surgeon General indicates that loneliness is a new public health epidemic in the United States, causing serious mental health problems.

The report says the country is experiencing significant consequences of loneliness and isolation.

“You can be around people and still feel lonely,” Freeny said. “You can attend events and still feel isolated. What we’re seeing is a lack of meaningful connections.”

For the elderly, major life changes can be risk factors.

“When somebody maybe lost their spouse or their partner, and now their grounding force is now missing and they’re not trying to figure life out again,” Freeny said.

It can also include relocation, moving children, or even losing the ability to drive. This can trigger changes in mood and behavior in older people that they and their loved ones need to be careful of.

“It can be subtle; it’s not a ‘one day you feel like it, the next day you don’t,'” Freeny said.

Loneliness is associated with higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide. Isolation also poses a major risk of physical problems, including premature death, a level of risk comparable to high blood pressure, smoking or obesity.

Preventing all of this can start with compassionate conversations.

Kaiser Permanente network resources include the non-profit called “Front Porch”. It has a program connecting seniors with volunteers for 30-minute phone calls each week to build friendships.

There are also social workers, centers for the elderly and even Zoomba and yoga to help combat loneliness.

For more information, click here.

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Loneliness is a public health epidemic, report says

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