Loneliness & Social Isolation Are Public Health Issues

posted by Cindy Bjorkquist, M.S., director of Health & Well-Being, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

on May 8, 2019

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan fosters social connectedness to help members improve health and well-being.

I always carry my mobile phone to not only stay connected to family, but also to post health-related messages on social media to help motivate others to improve their well-being.  Studies support health behaviors can be positively influenced by social networks—reading a post by someone who just took a walk can influence someone to do the same.

Posts, likes, and comments can give people a false sense of social connectedness because they lack the benefits of face-to-face interaction. Even though we’re interacting with thousands of people through social media, our society is seeing increased rates of loneliness and social isolation.

Nationally represented estimates have found between 20% and 43% of Americans report feeling lonely or socially isolated, according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist from Brigham Young University who studies loneliness and its health effects. It affects all ages. The American Association of Retired Persons reported 75% of adults feel lonely on a regular basis. George Mason University found 1 in 3 young adults suffer from loneliness.

We know social support is crucial to our overall well-being. Loneliness and social isolation aren’t just social issues—they can also affect a person’s physical and mental health. Lunstad’s research found a connection between social isolation and premature mortality, and research from the Florida State University College of Medicine found loneliness increases a person’s risk of dementia by 40%.

At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, we’re helping our members combat feelings of loneliness and social isolation in a couple ways.

Our Blue Cross® Virtual Well-Being program offers live weekly webinars to support our members’ journeys to improved well-being. Social connectedness is one of the topics we focus on. Our webinars provide research-based information to educate members on ways to improve their well-being.

Members are encouraged to:

  • Reach out to neighbors.
  • Use Skype or Facetime to contact family or friends who live far away.
  • Invite an acquaintance to coffee or lunch.
  • Attend local community events to meet others with similar interests.
  • Ask a friend to start exercising with you (picture attached is from a local bike race I completed with two friends).
  • Sign up for a class at a local community center.
  • Volunteer at a favorite charity.
  • Participate in a community group.

Anyone can register for the live webinars, download materials, and watch previous webinars at bluecrossvirtualwellbeing.com. You can view our webinar about social connectedness here.

Because people spend a significant amount of their day working, Blue Cross also provides employers direction on developing a strategy to increase workplace well-being by using onsite coordinators. As part of their jobs, these onsite coordinators provide members with ways to help combat loneliness, including social connectedness, meditation and journaling classes, challenges, team exercise classes, and social activities such as setting up community puzzles and hosting a family day to give employees a sense of community.

Connecting with others is such an important part of your overall state of well-being. What can you do today to increase your social connectedness?

Cindy Bjorkquist, M.S., is the director of Health & Well-Being at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit mutual insurance company, is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Blue Cross provides and administers health benefits to more than 4.6 million members residing in Michigan in addition to employees of Michigan-headquartered companies who reside outside the state.

To learn more about how AHIP and its health insurance provider members are addressing social barriers like loneliness, visit Project Link.

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