Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation and loneliness were impacting men in significant numbers. While everyone needs to be alone every once in a while, the effects of social isolation among men has led many to experience the symptoms of loneliness.
Isolation and Loneliness Pre-Pandemic
A survey conducted in 2019 found that loneliness was more common among men. The report details the fact that, pre-pandemic, 63% of men said they were lonely, compared with 58% of women. Several factors were identified in the report, including workplace culture and conditions at the time. Other factors included the use of social media, with 73% of the heaviest social media users considered to be lonely, compared with 52% of light users.
There were a few generational differences, although the feelings of isolation were found to be prevalent across all generations. Younger people, between the ages of 18 and 22, had the highest average loneliness score and Baby Boomers had the lowest. In terms of working conditions, people with good co-worker relationships were less lonely as were those who reported a good work-life balance.
During the Pandemic
A separate study conducted in October 2020 found that 61% of those young people, between the ages of 18 and 25 in this survey, reported high levels of feeling lonely. Just over a third of all respondents, 36%, reported feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time” in the previous four weeks.
This new study also points to the symptoms of loneliness that can lead to a downward spiral for some people. The young people who reported serious loneliness also said they were feeling as though no one “genuinely cared” about them. Survey participants who said they were lonely often felt they were reaching out or listening to other people more than those other people were reaching out or listening to them.
During the pandemic, the guidance and restrictions requiring “social distancing” have led to an increase in social isolation. This sense of isolation has increased the feelings of loneliness, having an adverse impact on individuals’ mental and physical health. Throughout the pandemic, women who live alone may be more likely to feel lonely, but men are less likely to reach out for help for their loneliness, out of a self-perceived need to appear strong.
Some Men Are Truly Lonely
Social isolation among men may have more of an impact than is being reported. The burden of being alone is particularly difficult for men to bear, often with devastating consequences. Alexander Tsai, MD, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has reported that men who don’t have strong social ties commit suicide at over the twice of the rate of those men who are able to surround themselves with supportive friends and family members.
Although many men like to be independent and enjoy some time alone, some men are truly lonely. Loneliness is the perception that an individual lacks or has lost meaningful social relationships. Loneliness can occur in social isolation, which is the actual measurable loss of social contact. It is also possible for a man to feel lonely even when he is not socially isolated. A man’s desire for connection with others may not match the reality of his situation, as he may have few friends or social contacts that satisfy his needs.
Symptoms of Loneliness
There are many mental and physical health ramifications of feeling lonely. It can impair an individual’s ability to sleep, and it can drive unhealthy behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol. Social isolation among men may keep them from seeking medical care for their symptoms and may increase their stress level.
Loneliness has also been associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety, as well as an increased incidence of cancer. Although neither loneliness nor social isolation have been connected with prostate cancer in men, being single without a support network has been associated with poorer survival outcomes for cancer patients. In addition, loneliness among middle-aged men is associated with an increased likelihood of cancer, including lung cancer.
A Symptom of Depression
Loneliness can make an individual feel empty or unwanted. An individual who is experiencing the symptoms of loneliness may find it more difficult to form connections with other people. Loneliness can also be a symptom of depression or other psychological disorders. Depression, in particular, causes an individual to withdraw socially and that can lead to social isolation among men. In turn, loneliness can be a factor contributing to the symptoms of depression.
Mental Health Treatment for Men at PACE
If you are experiencing loneliness, depression, or the effects of social isolation, reach out to the professionals at PACE Recovery. We optimize your recovery success with integrated treatment that will address both your mental health and any substance use issues you may also have developed as a result of your loneliness. We address your whole person, including your spiritual, medical, psychosocial, and relational facets.
At PACE, we understand the challenges you are facing during this period of isolation and uncertainty. We’re here to help. Our men’s-only programming has transformed hundreds of lives over the years, and we believe that you can recover. To learn more about our mental health and addiction services, contact our Admissions team.