Loneliness Has Huge Health, Business Costs

Senior man sitting on bench in garden.

Senior man sitting on bench in garden.

Loneliness Has Huge Health, Business Costs

It’s not as if loneliness had never been on health researchers’ radar before COVID-19. 

A 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation report found that nearly 60 million Americans – or 22% – often or always felt lonely or isolated. The problem is particularly poignant in adults over 60, 43% of whom reported feeling lonely. 

And in 2019, just prior to the pandemic’s outbreak in America, the Health Resources & Services Administration cited a staggering warning that social isolation can cause as much harm as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

Loneliness spiked to crisis status during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project, which found more than a third of all Americans – 36% – feel “serious loneliness.” That includes 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with younger children. 

“Emotional and physical Isolation were already underreported problems prior to the pandemic,” says Karie Batzler, Capital Blue Cross director of behavioral health. “But the pandemic escalated them to an epidemic that carries long-term consequences that could potentially damage, or even cost, countless lives. It’s imperative, collectively as communities, that we work together to lessen loneliness, especially for those most susceptible to it, such as seniors and young adults.” 

The issue has health implications that go beyond mental wellness. Several analyses have reported that loneliness carries a higher mortality risk than obesity. 

The Economic Impact 

The isolation epidemic is expensive for employers, too, costing U.S. businesses more than $154 billion in productivity losses, according to a Business Insider report. 

The good news is employers and business leaders can try to lessen the loneliness by: 

  • Creating team events and group activities within the workweek that help build a bigger sense of community. 
  • Providing information and staff education campaigns on how to cope with isolation. 
  • Reminding all employees that while they have commitments to themselves, they also should commit to the well-being of their co-workers, particularly those they sense may be vulnerable. 

Capital Blue Cross helps employers it covers through a variety of behavioral health initiatives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the health insurer unveiled a behavioral health toolkit for employer groups and helped bring to market a new mobile app that helps users improve their mental wellness. 

“Employers can help by understanding that what lonely employees need more than anything is to connect and reach out to others, and for others to reach out to them,” Batzler said. “But sometimes the shame that accompanies loneliness pushes them in the other direction, and that can spiral downward quickly. Regularly scheduled workplace initiatives that include more group activities, education inside the workplace about how to cope with loneliness, and the availability of programs or tools to handle it are critical.” 

(For more health and wellness news and information that can benefit your business and employees, visit thinkcapitalbluecross.com.) 



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