Managing Loneliness and Social Isolation – NIHCM Insights

Discover the risk factors associated with loneliness, its impact on well-being, and strategies to combat the distress that can come with social isolation.

As millions around the world practice social distancing to combat the spread of COVID-19, psychological distress from isolation and loneliness poses an increased threat to well-being. In addition, pre-existing mental health issues can be compounded with the new, extraordinary conditions we find ourselves in. The National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) recently published new data insights highlighting the key risk factors associated with loneliness, the impact of loneliness on mental health and well-being, and strategies to combat the distress that can come with increased social isolation.

Loneliness before COVID-19

According to the recent Data Insights, over 20% of U.S. adults reported that they often or always felt lonely or isolated before the COVID-19 pandemic. These feelings often impact an individual’s mental health and can lead to a wide variety of adverse consequences. In fact, the NIHCM study shows that nearly 60% of those who felt lonely or isolated also said the feelings negatively impacted their mental health. Additionally, 55% reported that their loneliness or isolation negatively impacted their physical health and almost 50% said it impacted their personal relationships.

[RELATED: COVID-19 Resources for Healthcare Providers, Families, and Leadership]

Risk factors of loneliness

There are many factors that can influence the likelihood of an individual experiencing loneliness. For example, increased age, maintaining an ideal social network size, enjoying a variety of hobbies, and being in a romantic relationship can all decrease loneliness and reduce the associated stress. Other factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing loneliness, such as LGBTQ status, lower income levels, living or working in urban environments, and, most pertinent, social isolation. The NIHCM study also identified factors that have little to no effect on loneliness, including education level, an individual’s race or ethnicity, and gender.

Strategies to combat loneliness

The world has not seen a pandemic of this nature in recent history, and many are unsure and concerned with how to move forward. While there are many elements outside of our control, there are strategies and solutions we all can adopt to ease the burden and reduce the potential distress caused by isolation. According to the NIHCM, social interaction is the key to combating loneliness. Obviously, means of this interaction are limited, but the study offers a variety of ways to stay connected during the COVID-19 social restrictions. These include talking with loved ones and friends virtually and regularly, utilizing social platforms, and checking in on neighbors, especially elderly individuals and those at high risk.

It is unclear how or when the social distancing restrictions will be lifted, but the report does provide post-COVID-19 guidance. Home-visits, face to face connections, community-based programs, and getting to know your neighbors are all recommendations for returning to a healthy state of mind following the pandemic.

[RELATED: Taking Care of Yourself During COVID-19 Uncertainty]

Additional Resources and Research

Many researchers have been studying mental health and specifically loneliness during the COVID-19 era. Explore the additional information and variety of strategies to improve loneliness cited at the bottom of the NIHCM report web page. For more resources and research on mental health and well-being in the healthcare industry, follow the Well-Being Index and subscribe to the blog.

As always, we want to thank all healthcare workers sacrificing to keep us all safe. We are grateful for your continued selflessness and service. We will get through this together.

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