Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Social Isolation Is Not Good For Your Health-Proving What We Know Intuitively!

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 26, 2013

http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-social-isolation-health-20130326,0,7160788.story

Without connection, we die sooner. So, today’s article in the LA Times, tells us, as it reports from a published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sure, we want science to support what makes sense, so sure I support the study. I just hope it comes as no surprise. Emotional needs, like physical needs, are needs, and as such, when deprived, poor mental and physical states ensue. Without nutrition we die. Food is life-sustaining, and so are friends and family, if one feels that these friends and family can provide reciprocity and respect. This latter comment, is, of course, speculation. The study only shows in a gross way, how important people are to other people. I speculate further, that the interactions necessary to sustain life are those which bolster self-esteem and worthiness. Without these, the mind tells the body that life is less important and so there is less of a push for self-care. In other words, as we age, this mind/body connection is even more important, as the body becomes more vulnerable, the need for the mind to “fight” for the body’s survival is more critical. This “fighting mind” is fueled by feeling loved and valued by people deemed important. Some would argue that elderly people in communal living situations live longer because the support of the community helps them wake up each day and look forward to seeing their “friends’ whereas elderly folks who live alone have less incentive to push themselves towards activities. All this to say that “behavioral medicine,” as some call the specialty of mental health, really promotes the obvious-friendship. As I say many times in my posts, the answer is easy. The difficulty is in the execution.

8 Responses to “Social Isolation Is Not Good For Your Health-Proving What We Know Intuitively!”

  1. Jon said

    As for you, the results of this study come as no surprise to me – the more we are connected to others the better our physical and emotion heath. The more we feel the worth of our friends and family, those who we care about and who care about us, the better (and longer) we are able to live. It is gratifying to find ones understandings bolstered by observational data. This gives yet another direction to take the pre-Socratic philosopher Protagoras statement “man is the measure of all things”. Man can help his fellow man extend his own life and hence extend the measure of all things.

    Sophistry aside, the LA Times article brings up an important distinction between isolation and loneliness. Yes, isolation is much easier to measure; however, as mentioned, a Henry David Thoreau can be isolated, but not lonely, while a Marilyn Monroe can be far from isolated and quite lonely. This can become an intriguing area to study.

    Playing on the riff of loneliness, here is a link to a former (and favorite) LA Times columnist Al Martinez (now writing for the LA Daily News) who discusses loneliness in this modern age of Facebook http://www.dailynews.com/columnists/ci_22861395/finding-facebook . His observations are in concert with the above discussion.

    • Thanks, Jon. Yes, this article made the distinction between being isolated and feeling lonely, but as Shelly points out, this nuance has to do with whether one feels understood, which, again, the article did not articulate. Feeling understood is, for many of us, a rare experience, which, like a gem, one treasures deeply. Thanks again.

      • Ashana M said

        What’s interesting is the point they make that isolation does not necessarily cause ill health. When you are ill, you also get out less to be around others and people visit less. It’s unclear what the causality is, although they are correlated.

        • Shirah Vollmer said

          Yes, it is a downward spiral of illness leading to isolation and isolation exacerbating the illness. Thanks.

      • Jon said

        I agree with you and Shelly that the key is indeed feeling understood. As you correctly state, this was not expressed in the LA Times article, but is probably the link that is needed for better physical and mental health.

        • Shirah Vollmer said

          Thanks, Jon. I would add on that understanding is a difficult process because perception is so individual, that we as listeners merely approach understanding, but never get there exactly, very similar to the concept of infinity.

  2. Shelly said

    Is there a difference between females and males? Do women need this connection more than men? It seems to me that women are more social creatures and share more than men do. Or at least they appear to need more of a group than men do. As you state so eloquently in your blog, “elderly people in communal living situations do better when they get up each day because the support of the community helps them wake up each day and look forward to seeing their “friends’ whereas elderly folks who live alone have less incentive to push themselves towards activities.” I think the same holds true of anyone–young people or old: people who have good friendships or are involved in the community and have meaningful attachments with others have reasons to take better care of themselves than people who don’t. But, as you say, the trick is not feeling lonely in a group of people. Many people do. I’ve come to understand through reading this blog that only through rare and close friendships that understanding can help battle isolation.

    • Yes, Males tend to do better when they are married, whereas elderly females do better when they are single. Women, on average, are better at creating social networks, where men, on average, tend to depend on their wife for connection. This article did not address this issue, however. Thank you for your comments, as always.

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