Social isolation is as harmful to people as well-established risk factors for mortality, like smoking and obesity.
Staying socially active, being well connected with family, peers and colleagues, is a major factor in health and survival. The quality of our relationships is, to a large extent, what governs our sense of wellbeing and happiness, but it goes further say researchers: “The quality and quantity of individuals’ social relationships has been linked not only to mental health but also to both morbidity and mortality.”
We are a social species and we rely on others to help us in all aspects of our lives. This includes our identities, sense of purpose, recognition and many of the subtler aspects of our development, as well as the obvious material elements. As our increasingly individualistic lifestyle in the West reduces our dependence on others it can also deprive us of the reciprocal demands and benefits of our relationships
In the UK, according to a 2010 survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 10% of people often feel lonely, a third have a close friend or relative who they think is very lonely, and half think that people are getting lonelier in general. Similarly, across the Atlantic, over the past two decades there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who say they have no close confidants.
Taking care of our relationships may well be the most neglected aspect of our collective lives, whether at work, in the home, or in the community. Yet it is also the easiest to do something about, if we can only be bothered.