The Loneliness Epidemic

The Loneliness Epidemic August 6, 2013

Raise your hand if you remember this song from your youth:

It could be argued now, I suppose, that The Beatles were more than just poets – they were a prophetic bunch.

I can’t speak for the Brits, but here in America we are facing a full-blown Loneliness Epidemic.

A recent report from the Barna Group reveals that despite all our ability to connect technologically, Americans are more isolated, and more lonely than ever.

“As a nation, we are embracing the digital revolution and, ironically, we are becoming a lonelier population. While there are many benefits of being participants in possibly the most relationally connected age in human history, the social media revolution has not made us feel more connected, less lonely, or replete with friends,” reports David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group.

While the CDC may not be issuing red-alerts over the health dangers of loneliness just yet, there is plenty of research revealing the inherent dangers of loneliness.

Not surprisingly, prisoners put in isolation for long periods of time show signs of depression, despair, rage, problems with impulse control, and an impaired ability to think, concentrate or remember.

Those symptoms read like an indictment on present-day culture in the good ole U. S. of A.

In her 1959 essay “On Loneliness”, German psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann defined real loneliness as a “lack of intimacy.”

In other words, you may have 3,500 friend on Facebook, but when is the last time you sat down across a table from someone and told them how much your heart hurts?

When is the last time you told someone how much you were hurting that they actually listened to you, without scrolling through their own Facebook page?

People who are lonely are more susceptible to chronic inflammation, which leads to all sorts of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. Loneliness also makes one susceptible to a marked increase in dementia. A Dutch study cited in The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry found that participants who reported feeling lonely — regardless of how many friends and family surrounded them — were more likely to develop dementia than those who lived on their own but were not lonely.

The loneliness of Americans has doubled in the past ten years, according to the Barna report. Can you think of one other disorder or disease that would doubled in that short time and not be considered an epidemic?

Is it because we don’t have time for friendships?

Barna’s report would indicate otherwise. Only a third of Americans reported being busy as opposed to the half that said they were busy a decade ago. (Maybe the unemployment rate has something to contribute to Americans being less busy, heh?)

All of this is really an opportunity for the Church to step up and change the trend in culture, Kinnaman suggests.

“Finally, the research points to many opportunities for the Christian community—the original social network—to provide genuine responses to the needs of today’s culture,” Kinnaman concludes. “The Church, when functioning properly, can address the rising epidemic of loneliness.”

Of course, the younger population – the ones fleeing the church in droves – might say they view the church as a place of isolation and loneliness. A place where they feel most cut off from humanity.

What are we going to do about that?











Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • AFRoger

    You mention a vairety of physical ailments above. Those pale by comparison to the psychological impact of: 1) being unable to pay sustained attention to another person, especially spouse/spouse and parent/child; 2) inability to communicate verbally and non-verbally; 3) lack of eye contact. One local high school basketball coach has already noticed a marked change in his players’ ability to “see” and communicate non-verbally on the court. We have not yet begun to see the tip of the iceberg of challenges that will be faced by teachers as more children enter schools from smartphone preoccupied households.

    • Interesting, Roger. I hadn’t thought of how all this technology might play out for coaches, but having been married to a coach for many decades I can certainly see how that would be a problem.

  • In my youth ministry context I have noticed that there is a huge growth in numbers in our group but a loss of depth. I communicate regularly with teens via text and FB but when I ask to speak with them one on one they ask, “Is something wrong?” I assure them nothing is but they do not want to talk one on one. Here’s the deal: THEY DO NOT KNOW HOW TO TALK. Conversation is rare nowadays among younger generations.

    Here is a caveat. The parents have embraced this form of communication as well. Parents do not know how to communicate either. You’re right. Churches must step in and foster social media fasts and technology fasts to pursue something deeper.

    Thanks for the post.

  • AFRoger

    Thanks for your insight from another first-hand perspective. In my urban ministry among homeless and low income folks, I’ve seen changes. Our ministry is one of relationship to specifically offer respite from the social isolation and lack of community that accompanies homelessness, mental illness, poverty, or all three. Over the past six years, an increasing number of our guests no longer engage in conversation or board games, etc. with volunteers and other guests during hospitality hours. They are on their computers playing video games, and the signs of this new addiction are as clear as the signs of other forms of “substance” abuse. A number of them do so during worship and Bible studies also. One uses his electronic tools to compose music, and it could be his resurrection since he no longer can keep a musical instrument of his own.
    Electronic tools offer a world of resources at one’s fingertips. Our people could be using them to earn college degrees, but overwhelmingly, it’s video games. If we are a human being who can’t relate to other human beings, what then have we become, and what good is all of the knowledge we might amass?
    I think your suggestion of technology fasts is a good one. It will never sell, I fear, unless we can articulate the wonder of what could be gained: the very essence of what it means to be human and to genuinely know each other. For all but the tiniest recent fraction of our history on this planet, we humans have learned to be humans from other humans as our brains have been wiring themselves. This formula has now changed radically, and I wonder what it will lead to 2-3 generations out? We are drowning in information, of which only a small fraction is valuable knowledge. And of that sum of knowledge, even less deserves to wear the title “wisdom” that is worth keeping.