Loneliness is a topic that isn't widely discussed, yet it is one of the most urgent social and public health crises of our time (The Cost of Loneliness Project). A 2018 Cigna survey found that nearly 46 percent of Americans say they sometimes, or always, feel alone. Local reports hint that loneliness is an issue impacting Knox County. Although it doesn't specifically measure loneliness, the 2018 Community Health Assessment reported:
28% of Knox County adults rated their mental health as not good on four or more days in the previous month.
9% of Knox County adults had a period of two or more weeks when they felt so sad or hopeless nearly every day that they stopped doing usual activities. This increased to 20% for those under the age of 30.
In 2018, 3% of Knox County adults considered attempting suicide.
There is a strong correlation between loneliness and suicide (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). Loneliness increases the suicide risk in the veteran population (U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs). In Ohio, suicide rates have increased almost 45% since 2007 and adults ages 45-64 were the most vulnerable (Ohio Department of Health). An OSU study on suicide trends in Ohio indicates that suicide rates have "increased most rapidly in rural counties, which may be more sensitive to the impact of social deprivation than more metropolitan counties".
In rural communities, loneliness is exacerbated by physical and social limitations. People in rural communities may not have someone they can easily interact with or call when they need help. A survey by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health revealed that 2.5 million rural residents (about 7% of the total rural population) say they have no friends or family nearby to rely on. An additional 14 million (about 39%) say they have only a few people.
Global trends show that loneliness does not discriminate and impacts a broad portion of the population. About 55,000 people took part in The BBC Loneliness Study Research was conducted by Prof Pamela Qualter from the University of Manchester, Prof Christina Victor from Brunel University London, and Prof Manuela Barreto from the University of Exeter. They found that:
40% of 16 to 24-year-olds reported they often feel lonely. Higher levels of loneliness in young people were noted across cultures, countries, and genders.
Over 25% the elderly population struggle with loneliness.
People who often feel lonely reported lower levels of health.
Kenyon College, Mount Vernon Nazarene College, and COTC students live in or spend a significant portion of their year in our community. College students and young adults are particularly vulnerable to loneliness. The 2017 American College Health Association survey of 28,000 college students revealed that nearly 30 percent reported they felt “very lonely” in the past two weeks and 64 percent felt that way in the past year. A Canadian study reported almost 70% of students experienced loneliness. Globally, the trends are similar.
"Loneliness causes physical health problems with consequences as dire as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Loneliness also contributes to and exacerbates mental health problems. Loneliness occurs across the lifespan, from childhood to old age" (Australian Coalition to End Loneliness (ACEL) .