Nearly 3 in 5 adults in the US suffer from loneliness – and it may be one of the biggest problems the under-the-radar economy is facing.

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Millions of Americans suffer from a deadly and costly health problem – one for which we do not have a vaccine, immunity, or prompt treatment. It is unity – and it quietly permeates every level of our society. Each year, loneliness costs families, the healthcare system, and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars.

To begin to address loneliness, it is necessary to understand it. Loneliness does not necessarily mean that a person is physically separated from others. It is an overarching belief that one is socially isolated and cannot form meaningful connections with others.

It’s a shockingly common issue. Nearly three out of five adults in the United States are considered lonely, according to data from Morning Consult. Underrepresented racial groups and people with low incomes are particularly likely to struggle with loneliness.

While loneliness lurks beneath the surface, it also results in significant health damage. Chronic loneliness rewires our brains and produces harmful inflammation. It fuels nearly every serious illness in the book, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and dementia. In fact, research has found that the health risks of prolonged loneliness are similar to those of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

These health issues require patients to make frequent trips to the doctor—or worse, lead to serious medical episodes. These expenses add up quickly and are costing patients and our healthcare system dearly.

I know this very well. My stepdaughter Riley lost her mental health battle in 2021 after living for years with chronic loneliness and bipolar disorder. My wife and I are devastated. I also got so frustrated with the health care system that it only treats her physical symptoms and misses countless warning signs of mental health.

You see, Riley was no stranger to the emergency room. She often had seizures that required emergency care. Before her worst episode, she expressed an overwhelming sense of loneliness.

In total, I went to the hospital dozens of times over the course of two years, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Doctors always provided temporary solutions to her urgent issues. But the underlying loneliness — which ultimately drives many of her most intense bouts — remains largely unaddressed.

Many families cannot afford such high medical expenses – and will struggle to pay for other basic necessities such as food and housing. I also shudder when I think of the children who have lost their parents to loneliness. Not only have they lost a crucial source of love and support, but they have also lost a vital financial sponsor. These children then grow up lacking resources and at greater risk of becoming lonely themselves. It is a vicious cycle of poverty and mental health issues.

Then there is the cost to our health care system. People who are lonely use more inpatient care, go to the doctor more often, and are more likely to be hospitalized than those who are not lonely — although this excess care can be avoided. One analysis of four emergency rooms in Dallas found that 80 people visited more than 5,000 times in one year—largely because they felt lonely. These additional visits lead to longer waiting times and higher health costs for all patients.

Loneliness also greatly affects workers and employers in non-health care businesses. People who suffer from loneliness simply cannot perform at their highest levels. Lonely employees also frequently experience health issues, resulting in more missed workdays. They are more likely to look for work elsewhere.

All told, loneliness could cost the US economy $406 billion annually.

We can’t afford to hide our loneliness in the background. The first step is the examination. Generally, providers only assess physical symptoms — and possibly delve into diet and exercise. But they also need to consider the mental health issues that could play a role, especially for people who end up in the ER frequently.

Crucially, there must be a way for clinicians to specifically diagnose lonely people and prescribe treatment, just like any other mental health condition.

Getting rid of the stigma around loneliness is crucial. This happened slowly with anxiety and depression, but not with loneliness. People with this condition already feel misunderstood and distrustful of others. Shaming or criticizing them for feeling this way exacerbates the problem and forces them to hide it.

Loneliness is perhaps the biggest economic issue our country faces. It is expensive and deadly. It’s time to confront him.

Cindy Jordan is the co-founder and CEO of Pyx Health, which supports individuals dealing with loneliness.

The opinions expressed in articles. Comments are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs luck.

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