The Age of Loneliness


By Lori Ciccarelli-Stotko, MPS, Certified Spiritual Director

We are living in an age of loneliness. It is an invisible epidemic that affects 60 million Americans. According to research, it is a health risk that can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, increase risk for vascular, inflammatory and heart diseases. Studies show loneliness increases the risk for early death by 45%. Studies also indicate lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. Our health is the integration of mind, body, soul.

Did you know that being part of a “community” is actually physically healthy? Political Scientist & Professor at Harvard University, Dr. Robert Putnam, completed extensive research on “community.” His research indicates we are made to live in community. We have a relational identity. He says if you joined a community right now, it will literally cut the odds of dying in half within the next year. Research shows isolation leads to depression and anxiety. Our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water. Where do you connect? Where do you find community? Golf buddies? Ski or hiking clubs? Church or book clubs?

My personal ministry is modeled after the ministry of Jesus focused on the spirit of humanity – relationship, community outreach, serving. I view Jesus as one of our first social workers in history. He reached out to his communities to serve others displaying love and compassion. As a hospital Spiritual Care Chaplain, I see so many patients that are alone, hungry, hurting.

We are to show hospitality to one another; it’s biblical. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, honor one another above yourself, practice hospitality,” Romans 12:10. And we are to do this without grumbling (I Peter 4:9). We are also instructed to encourage one another building each other up, showing respect to everyone (I Thessalonians 5:11 and I Peter 2:17).

Did you know that as we serve others we actually become healthier? Volunteering gets us outside of ourselves. Research studies show when we serve, we are less likely to develop hypertension. It also decreases depression and anxiety as it provides a sense of purpose. Studies indicate those who volunteer live longer than their non-volunteering peers.

Mammoth Hospital has partnered with local community organizations that have the mission to serve like faith-based organizations (many churches) and service clubs. Community volunteers from these organizations assist our patients upon discharge to help with running errands, provide assistance with meals or stop by to lend a hand or listening ear. We live in an age of loneliness; it’s not healthy. The next time your church or community service group hosts a potluck to fellowship amongst members, reach out and invite your neighbor. We have neighborhoods full of hungry community members. The smallest gestures of kindness can transform a life. It could be yours. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” Mahatma Gandhi.

Article first published in the Mammoth Times in Mammoth Lakes, California; 10/13/2016