A recent study from the Barna Group claims a new epidemic is casting a dark cloud over America: loneliness.

From Feb. to March 2020 and April to May 2020, online surveys for over 2,000 American adults were administered. Behavioral scientist Susan Mettes conducted the research study in partnership with Barna. Her new book about the nationwide survey, The Loneliness Epidemic, analyzes the prevalence of loneliness in the country and the church. It further examines the health effects of loneliness on the human mind and body.

The CDC defines loneliness as “the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact,” correlated with declining health effects.

“In [this] academic research, loneliness is the distress someone feels when their social connections don’t meet their need for emotional intimacy,” Behavioral scientist Mettes elucidated on the phenomenon. “It’s lack; it’s a disappointment; it’s something we are conscious of, even when we don’t call it loneliness. Loneliness is a thirst that drives us to seek companionship — or, perhaps better, fellowship. Without fellowship, we go on needing others and seeking relief for that need.”

The nationwide survey results showed that three out of every ten adults in America are experiencing daily loneliness with emotional pain associated. For those that experience loneliness once per week, 40% of them selected that the pain of loneliness spanned from “intense to unbearable.”

“These numbers give us a snapshot of loneliness. What they don’t reveal is for whom loneliness is a long-term, chronic condition. The chronic version of loneliness is more damaging,” the research conductor explained. “Those whose loneliness is constant and chronic have likely experienced how loneliness can chip away at health and quality of life.”

Loneliness can result in several harmful health conditions. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine stated in a 2020 report that elderly individuals in isolation and loneliness have higher chances of depression, heart disease, and even higher mortality rates.

“Loneliness and social isolation aren’t just social issues — they can also affect a person’s physical and mental health, and the fabric of communities,” a Dan Blazer, a medicine professor at Duke University who served a role in publishing the study, clarified about the report. “Addressing social isolation and loneliness is often the entry point for meeting seniors’ other social needs — like food, housing, and transportation.”

The Barna Group also analyzed the frequency of loneliness for church members compared to the rate of loneliness in the general pool survey. The results didn’t contrast significantly.
Survey results from American church members were very close to the average results from Americans who don’t attend church.

“Looking at committed faith practice, practicing Christians — those who identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month — do show a slight decrease in how often they feel lonely, when compared to churched adults and the general population,” the research firm concluded. “However, a notable one in five (20%) still feels lonely at least once each day, with 10 percent being lonely all the time.”

Despite the frequency of loneliness being the same for both groups, the main difference was the severity of loneliness. Church attendees reported less pain associated with loneliness than non-Church attendees. The research team also concluded that Christians had a higher frequency of putting a negative stigma of loneliness being “bad” and assuming it’s not an appropriate problem to spend time discussing in church.

“There is a real danger of letting positive psychology hijack the Church’s real purpose,” Mettes expressed. “It is because of what the Christian faith teaches that Christians do so many things that are good for loneliness (i.e., group singing, community service, meeting in person). But confronting loneliness isn’t an ultimate goal. In the taxonomy of church priorities, it is a subcategory of loving your neighbor.”

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