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Ask Chuck: The High Cost of Loneliness

by Chuck Bentley May 12, 2023

Dear Chuck,

I am a baby boomer with lots of friends and a healthy community at church, but I see loneliness as a major problem for so many of my friends, our kids, and our grandkids. How do you think this trend will impact the economy in the future? 

Worried about the Disconnected 


Dear Worried about the Disconnected, 

I am glad to hear of your concern for the disconnected and your insightful connection of this problem with economics. Loneliness is truly a devastating and costly problem. 

Loneliness is no longer a problem that affects just the elderly or shut-ins. Three years after Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, reports reveal that loneliness has become a public health crisis. The U.S. Surgeon General recently addressed the issue: Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. 

According to the Harvard Health Blog, “Isolation is the objective measure of how large your social network is, whereas loneliness is a subjective perception of how one feels. In other words, you can have many friends and be lonely, or no friends and not be lonely.” However, isolation is a risk factor for loneliness. 

Ask Chuck The High Cost Of Loneliness

The High Cost of Loneliness

The CDC reports that social isolation and loneliness cost the U.S. economy an estimated $406 billion a year, in addition to approximately $6.7 billion in annual Medicare costs. The socially isolated are more likely to need skilled nursing care in a facility. This becomes very expensive to beneficiaries because of limitations in Medicare coverage. 

A study by the University of Chicago found that loneliness can be as debilitating as anxiety or depression. High blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and a weakened immune system, along with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, are linked to it, increasing the risk of premature death. The disabled, those with poor physical and mental health, single parents, and the financially insecure particularly suffer. Research shows that social isolation is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes per day or drinking six alcoholic beverages a day. This is a serious and costly issue.

God created us to thrive within a community. Busyness, technology, and social media cannot substitute for in-person socialization. Without it, there is a price to pay:

  • Cost to health
  • Cost to communities in economic prosperity, crime, and violence
  • Cost to children and adolescents in academic outcome and social development
  • Cost to employers in reduced productivity and sick leave
  • Cost to employee output and threat to steady income
  • Cost to friends/relatives who must take time off work for caregiving
  • Cost of elder financial abuse by those who prey on the lonely (Romance Scams)

Financial Behavior of the Lonely 

A study out of Hong Kong reported that the lonely or rejected tend to put a greater value on money. They often make risky financial decisions that offer high rewards. They spend money, often sacrificing important resources, in an effort to secure social bonds, fit in, or be accepted. Those who place their identity in money feel pressure to be financially successful. They may forfeit time with family and friends to reach goals while damaging the quality of their relationships. Loneliness can also follow sudden wealth because people often don’t know who to trust. It is easier to build walls of protection than determine who is truly genuine.

“I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun.” 

–Chuck Swindoll

Some Helpful Action Steps

The lonely commonly withdraw, which only exacerbates the problem. One must step out of comfort zones to conquer loneliness. If a child or spouse is suffering, find ways to broaden their activities. Seek wise mentors, trusted friends, family members, or coaching to aid in social skills. Ask God for help, and see who He brings into your life. When we moved to a new city, my wife and I prayed for local couple friends, and the Lord graciously provided. Mayo Clinic reports that friendships enrich your life and improve your health. 

Here are some helpful tips: 

  • Limit social media use.
  • Take every thought captive, and recognize the lies of the enemy. 
  • Make time for friends (old and new) and family.
  • Schedule regular get-togethers. 
  • Attend church, join a Sunday School class, and participate in a small group.
  • Become a volunteer.
  • Join a local club of interest.  
  • Help your neighbors.
  • Extend and accept invitations.
  • Get active, walk, or play a sport with others.
  • Reconsider working remotely, and find a healthy balance. 

It takes work to make and maintain relationships, but it is so beneficial. Invite someone to walk and talk. Spend some money on an experience that is good for your mental health. Do not wait for someone to call or invite you somewhere. Reach out first. You may discover that person is just as hungry for friendship as you.

“The dearest friend on earth is a mere shadow compared to Jesus Christ.” 

–Oswald Chambers

If you’re looking for a way to help others or make connections, consider starting a small group or volunteering. Here is a Crown resource that you might find beneficial. Thank you for the excellent question.

This article was originally published on The Christian Post on May 12, 2023. 

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