It is hard to deny the advantages that technology has brought to our world today, providing us with easier and more efficient ways to complete a number of different processes and tasks from sending emails in place of snail mail, allowing for medical discoveries at a surprisingly rapid rate to the wealth of information at our fingertips with the single click of a computer. We have advanced existing industries, allowing them to be faster and most cost-effective than ever before while creating a number of new industries that were never previously considered.
The General Social Survey, funded by the National Science Foundation, has identified one major disadvantage to the shift in society. The survey revealed an alarming level of social isolation in the United States today compared to the generations that came before us. In 1985 the study showed that nearly ¾ of people reported that they had a friend that they felt they could confide in, however, the same questions in 2004 showed only 50% of people experiencing that same level of connection.
Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociologist from Duke University who helped to conduct the recent study explained, “We know that close ties are what people depend on in bad times. We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on Facebook.com and email 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.”
This shift in the way that we connect with others has created a new level of social isolation, which is growing and spreading across the country. This highlights a new, alarming concern – a concern that politicians in the UK are actively working to address. Former MP Jo Cox, prior to her death, introduced a report revealing that loneliness is as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
The report stated that: “Tackling loneliness is a generational challenge that can only be met by concerted action by everyone – governments, employers, businesses, civil society organizations, families, communities and individuals all have a role to play. Working together we can make a difference.”
This growing isolation is only further compounded by the state of Mental Health Care in the United States today. There are two major barriers to obtaining necessary health care within our country today – cost and stigma.
Mental Health America reports that over 6.3 million American adults with a mental illness or 14.7% remain uninsured, limiting their ability to obtain necessary care. Of the American adults reported to be living with mental illness, 56.5% received no treatment in the year prior to their report, and of those actively seeking medical assistance 20.1% report that their treatment needs were unmet. Those numbers are staggering and clearly show that there is a large gap that needs to be addressed in our society. Furthermore, those who are living with these illnesses and disorders are fighting against inaccurate portrayals of mental illness in movies and television shows and an incredible amount of judgement and negative association. Aware that they will face this stigma, many choose to avoid seeking help despite the fact it is so desperately needed.
Isolation is also a serious concern for the elderly. A study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco (UCFS) revealed that 43% of seniors surveyed reported feeling lonely on a regular basis. While many of us reap the benefits of being able to connect with people around the world via smartphones and laptops, this technology is often unavailable or unknown to the aging population. As younger generations shift towards online connection these individuals are left alone and with no real understanding as to why. T. Byram Karasu, MD., chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine explained, “They are lonely because they are alone. They [seniors] are put in nursing homes, assisted living communities, etc. Those are totally disorienting experiences.”
This information raises some big concerns regarding the overall health and well-being in the United States today. While UK politicians are taking steps to address the growing loneliness within the own borders, we hope that increased awareness among Americans will help to put pressure on our own government to consider the impact on our population.