How does loneliness affect men’s health?
Loneliness has been associated with mental health problems; people who often feel lonely are more than twice as likely to experience depression as those who do not. Although loneliness is typically considered a psychological experience, it can also have a significant impact on men’s physical health. Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of death from all causes, especially among men. Its effect is comparable to that of other well-known risk factors, such as smoking, which is already more common among men than women.
Loneliness and social isolation can, for example, increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by nearly one third. This is partly due to the influence of physiological mechanisms, such as activation of the stress response and inflammation that loneliness triggers. Loneliness also increases the risk of high blood pressure, a leading cause of death from cardiovascular disease.
Why do we need to act now on loneliness among men?
Loneliness has a multidimensional effect on men’s health, contributing to many major public health challenges in Europe. Men face specific obstacles that put them at higher risk of increased healthcare utilisation and worse outcomes.
Across Europe, health systems are struggling to cope with the demand on healthcare services and recovery from the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Loneliness is compounding these problems, not only due to its association with higher rates of non-communicable diseases but also due to higher rates of primary and emergency healthcare utilisation. The increasing number of older men living alone are a high-risk group that has an increased use of some healthcare services.
There has also been a sharp increase in mental illness in recent decades. However, societal stigma remains an obstacle for men who may need support, as they are less likely than women to talk about their mental health. Because of the relationship between loneliness and the onset of mental health problems, tackling men’s loneliness early could contribute significantly to the prevention and reduction of mental health issues.
Urgent action to tackle loneliness among men will be essential to alleviate the burden of diseases that are threatening our health systems and societies.