The Lonely Guy: Why Isolation Is Unhealthy

Going it alone isn't always the best choice. Find out why strong social ties matter.

From the WebMD Archives

Few people find joy in isolation, but the burden of being alone may be particularly tough for men to bear. Alexander Tsai, MD, PhD, reported last summer that men who don't have strong social ties commit suicide at more than twice the rate of men who surround themselves with friends, family, and community groups.

Tsai's study followed nearly 35,000 men between the ages of 40 and 75 over 24 years. He says his results matched those he sees in his practice in Boston.

"When I talk to people in various forms of distress, one of the common threads is some element of social isolation or dissatisfaction with personal relationships and social engagement," says Tsai, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

His study, he says, underscores the need for suicide prevention experts to look beyond depression and other psychiatric troubles when assessing suicide risk. Slipping social ties may also be danger signs.

Ask yourself: Are you a lone wolf or lonely? "Some people are quite happy to do their own thing," Tsai says. But some men are truly lonely, which means that their desire for a connection with others does not match their reality. They have few friends or are in relationships that don't satisfy their needs. Does that describe you?

Take stock. "Ask yourself, 'How happy am I with the quality of my relationships?'" he says. "'Do I have the types and breadth and range of relationships that I want? And if I don't, why is that?'" Don't be shy: Reach out to a social worker, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist for assistance.

Take small steps to connect. You don't have to join a support group, he says. Instead, do something fun. Go to book readings, join a poker club, or sign up for a group outing to a baseball game. Focus on the activity while around others. That will ease you into the group setting. "Taking small steps can help you learn what's comfortable for you."

WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on January 15, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Alexander Tsai, MD, psychiatrist, Massachusetts General Hospital, and assistant professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School.

Tsai, A. Annals of Internal Medicine, July 15, 2014.

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