So Lonely I Could Die

Loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity, and their impact has been growing and will continue to grow, according to research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need—crucial to both well-being and survival. Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University. “Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”

Approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s Loneliness Study. In addition, the most recent U.S. census data shows more than a quarter of the population lives alone, more than half of the population is unmarried and, since the previous census, marriage rates and the number of children per household have declined.

“These trends suggest that Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness,” said Holt-Lunstad.

To illustrate the influence of social isolation and loneliness on the risk for premature mortality, Holt-Lunstad presented data from two meta-analyses. The first involved 148 studies, representing more than 300,000 participants, and found that greater social connection is associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of early death.

The second study, involving 70 studies representing more than 3.4 million individuals primarily from North America but also from Europe, Asia and Australia, examined the role that social isolation, loneliness or living alone might have on mortality. Researchers found that all three had a significant and equal effect on the risk of premature death, one that was equal to or exceeded the effect of other well-accepted risk factors such as obesity.

“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” said Holt-Lunstad. “With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase. Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic.’ The challenge we face now is what can be done about it.”

Holt-Lunstad recommended a greater priority be placed on research and resources to tackle this public health threat from the societal to the individual level. For instance, greater emphasis could be placed on social skills training for children in schools and doctors should be encouraged to include social connectedness in medical screening, she said.

Additionally, people should be preparing for retirement socially as well as financially, as many social ties are related to the workplace, she noted, adding that community planners should make sure to include shared social spaces that encourage gathering and interaction, such as recreation centers and community gardens.

Issues for Immigrant Parents and Their Children

Immigrant families to Canada and the United States can face many issues complicating their adjustment to the new host culture.

Often unconsidered is the implications for intra-familial culture clash when children take to the host culture sooner or more wholeheartedly than their parents. Risk of conflict between children and their parents is heightened on issues of socialization with opposite gender friends, developing friends of other cultures, issues of rights and freedoms and expectations for academic performance.

Further, it is important to appreciate that immigrant families come to Canada generally seeking to provide a better life for their children than what might have been available in their country of origin. Hence when these parents come up against conflict with their children owing to adaptation, the conflict can be felt by the parent as tremendous disrespect by the child who doesn’t understand the parents’ rationale and sacrifice in coming to the new country.

While there are common challenges faced between immigrant parents and children of both gender, risk of pregnancy is a potent issue that can intensify concerns for the well-being of girls. In addition, strong cultural imperatives with regard to dress, deportment and socializing with the opposite sex can at times place greater demands on girls than boys.

These differences can erupt into serious fights between daughters and parents. Even when a fight does not erupt, some teenaged girls may seek to lead a double-life; keeping secrets about relationships and even their dress when at school or in the community. Other teenaged girls may seek to subordinate their feelings to the will of their parents only to find themselves depressed and anxious over the difficulty with cultural and family adaptation.

Boys do face cultural imperatives and conflicts too, but the absence of risk of pregnancy can lessen the scrutiny placed upon them by parents. However, the boys may be more subject to high expectations for academic excellence, which may or may not be taken well. If not taken well, boys may come to reject their own family’s culture, falling prey to the illusions of freedom from authority by gravitating to counter-culture groups or gangs. This in turn can lead to a risk of conflict with the law and abject academic failure as well as extreme conflict with their family.

The challenge is on the parents to adapt and find reasonable strategies to support cultural expectations in view of the greater likelihood that their children will be affected and changed by the new host culture. It is less a question of whether the children will be changed by the host culture, but rather how and to what degree.

Further, some immigrant parents may hail from cultures where the norm is to tell a child what to do and expect obedience. This quickly erodes for the children socialized particularly in western culture where individual freedom is valued and rewarded. Thus those parents who adjust and develop strategies that minimize the risk of conflict with their children stand the opportunity to remain more influential in their children’s lives than those parents who rely solely upon control strategies.

While not nagging their children, sharing stories as to why parents chose to immigrate and their hopes for their family’s future can inform their children as to their family aspirations. Further, when parents invite their children to engage in a dialogue about the differences between their respective lives non-judgmentally; parents and children may be apprised of their respective experiences and may be in a better position to discuss differences between themselves.

The challenge here is for the parents to develop skills that rely more upon influence than control. This can also be facilitated by participation and enjoyment of cultural activities and inviting their children’s new friends to join in. Co-opting children’s friends can serve as a better way of maintaining family integrity than isolating from friends.

5 Ways a PTSD Service Dog Can Help

U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Sean Stevenson takes a knee while on a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011. Stevenson is a corpsman with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8. The U.S. Marines conduct frequent patrols through the area to show a presence and interact with the community to find ways to help the populace. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nathan McCord/Released)
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Sean Stevenson takes a knee while on a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011. Stevenson is a corpsman with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8. The U.S. Marines conduct frequent patrols through the area to show a presence and interact with the community to find ways to help the populace. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nathan McCord/Released)

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that results from a traumatic experience. Common symptoms are nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive memories, depression, and anxiety following a traumatic event. Living with PTSD can be very difficult. Public outings may result in flashbacks while depression can become overwhelming if the person stays at home.

The risk of depression is high as well as the risk of suicide. While there are very effective treatments available for people with PTSD, a service dog can be a very useful support. Here are a few reasons you might want to consider getting a PTSD service dog.

They Encourage Exercise

Any dog needs someone to play with them and take them for walks. This physical activity is a very beneficial way to help treat PTSD. The positive endorphins that are produced during exercise can help combat depression and anxiety as well as improving physical fitness. Even on bad days, it’s hard to say no to a dog begging for a walk.

They Prevent Social Isolation

0-4Dogs are a wonderful way to cushion social interactions. They attract friendly people who want to pet them while providing something for you to talk about. Walks or trips to the dog park will force you to get out and see other people rather than isolate yourself in your home.

They Can Make Public Outings More Feasible

A trained service dog will be able to recognize when you have an episode and either comfort you or lead you to safety. They can also be trained to lead you to the nearest entrance in anticipation of an episode. These specialized skills can make going out in public safer, easier, and more comfortable for their handler.

They Can Recognize and Act Upon Nightmares

For at-home assistance, service dogs may be trained to fetch medication or even interrupt nightmares. When you are having a nightmare, the dog may be able to wake you and halt the nightmare, making it easier to recover and go back to sleep. If you have woken up from a nightmare, the dog will be able to provide comfort in the form of pressure or affection, also helping to prevent insomnia.

They Make Therapy Sessions Easier

Attending therapy for PTSD can be very difficult. You will need to discuss your trauma, the symptoms you are experiencing, and other potentially painful subject matter. With a dog by your side to stroke and seek comfort from, talking about these topics can become easier. The dog can also become part of your treatment plan, whether that means taking it to a new destination each week or simply spending a few hours a day on training sessions.

Though a dog is certainly a financial responsibility and a well-trained service dog can be expensive, the benefits a service dog has to offer are worth it. Even an untrained dog can be a wonderful addition to your home if you are suffering from PTSD. The unconditional love, encouragement to exercise, and help in social situations might even be all you need to start recovering.

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