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March 4, 2020

Battling the Modern Behavioral Epidemic of Loneliness: Suggestions for Research and Interventions

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, San Diego
  • 2Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California, San Diego, San Diego
  • 3Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, La Jolla, California
  • 4Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
  • 5Brain Dynamics Laboratory, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(6):553-554. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.0027

Since ancient times, millions of people have died of epidemics of plague, flu, cholera, and other infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms. Major advances in medicine have largely eliminated these mass killers with vaccines and antibiotics. However, modern societies are facing a new kind of epidemics: behavioral epidemics. The annual rates of mortality by suicides and opioid overdose have been escalating over the last 2 decades and today are responsible for the death of 1 American every 5.5 minutes. Consequently, the average US life span, which had been rising progressively since mid-1950s, has fallen for the first time.1

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2 Comments for this article
biological sources of stress
daniel campagne, Ph.D. | Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Spain
The epidemic of loneliness signalled by the authors warrants more research but, especially, needs research with a transdisciplinary approach. There is already considerable evidence that loneliness may have stress as an important biological component. See article on Stress and Perceived Social Isolation (Loneliness) at DOI:10.1016/j.archger.2019.02.007.
Social Cohesion
Paul Nelson, MS, MD | Family Health Care, PC retired
Robert D Putnam PhD accorded a major portion of his career to the study of social capital here and in Italy. Its decline began during the aftermath of WWII and reached its nadir by 1970. Sadly, our nation's worsening maternal mortality incidence began about that time and has annually worsened every year since then. The loss of social capital has also ingendered an associated erosion of social cohesion that is uniquely driven within every community. It's likely that these two anthropological phenomena underly childhood maltreatment, substance addiction, homelessness, mass shootings, mid-life depression, and a stagnant "longevity at birth" since 2010 at 78.7 years.

On the down-side of the pandemic, we best focus on our nation's social cohesion to prevent, mitigate, and ameliorate loneliness, as well.