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Why do so many men feel lonely?

By The Health News Team | March 29, 2024
Man outside looking at nature

With approximately 8 billion people in the world, why do many people feel lonely? Whatever the reasons may be, a sense of not being valued, lack of support and no one to celebrate the highs and discuss the lows with can take a toll on a person’s wellbeing.

Loneliness affects both men and women, with men, in particular, facing particular challenges. In 1990, research found that just 3% of men reported they had no close friends. In 2021, this percentage surged to 15%.

Even men that report they have many “close” friends can still experience loneliness. This is often associated with a lack of authentic, genuine connections, which can make men feel like they can't express their true selves.

Factors leading to loneliness

Experts say today’s culture plays a large role in men experiencing loneliness and social isolation. Two main influences are the lack of close friendships and the digital world.

Society often expects men to be the “alpha” — successful, strong and independent. As a result, men try to maintain an image of strength and control and often feel discouraged to share their emotions with others. This can make maintaining friendships difficult for men.

“When younger and still in school, boys and young men are practically compelled to socialize and connect with their peers over similar interests,” says Candy Elson, a licensed social worker with Sharp Grossmont Hospital for Behavioral Health. “Some men are fortunate and remain connected through playing or watching sports or other hobbies and activities. But for many, these young adult friendships drop off after marriage, children and work responsibilities, which can crowd out the opportunity to keep these friendships alive.”

Technology and social media also play a role in loneliness, Elson says. While both serve as valuable tools for staying connected with friends and the global community, they can also lead to isolation.

In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, those with higher social media use (two hours or more) felt more socially isolated than those with lower social media use. What’s more, social media often creates a misleading perception of genuine connection with others.

The effects of loneliness on physical and mental well-being

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 6 million men suffer from depression per year, but male depression often goes underdiagnosed. “Loneliness is a factor in untreated depression, which can lead to unhealthy coping, such as substance abuse and increased risk of suicide,” says Elson.

Stigma around depression can be a barrier for men seeking treatment. But help for depression is readily available via medication, individual therapy and group therapy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that loneliness can also lead to several other health issues, including:

  • High blood pressure

  • Inflammation

  • Anxiety

  • Heart disease

  • Obesity

  • Dementia

  • Premature death

Additionally, individuals who experience loneliness may encounter difficulty fitting into social groups and are more aware of situations where they could face rejection.

“Feelings of isolation, rejection and loneliness are stressors that trigger a range of physical and psychological processes with many negative consequences,” says Dr. William Brock, a psychologist with Sharp Grossmont Hospital for Behavioral Health. “This is a great reason to recognize loneliness early and to help men learn to establish and maintain meaningful relationships.”

Lower stress levels, greater resilience and an increased sense of optimism are some benefits of a healthy relationships.

How to address loneliness

The first step to addressing loneliness is acceptance. Having a busy social life doesn’t always necessarily lead to happiness. Finding a balance between social life and time alone is key. The goal is to slowly turn that feeling of loneliness to a comfortable sense of independence.

A way to steadily improve how you feel about your connection to others — and about yourself — is to dedicate time, whether that be a day or an hour, to spend with friends. Reach out and suggest grabbing coffee, going on a hike, taking a pottery class or volunteering at a nonprofit. Taking the time to connect feels rewarding and is essential.

However, according to Dr. Brock, it’s important to understand that it is okay to be alone and to sometimes feel lonely. “It is unrealistic to think that one will go through life without being alone — and even lonely — at times,” he says.

Creating meaningful connections and relationships takes effort, he says. Sitting and waiting for someone to make the first move may not happen until you take action yourself.

“It’s an important skill for men to learn to identify and express their emotions,” says Dr. Brock. “Talking about feelings takes practice, and it is a huge first step to acknowledge your feelings and to risk making yourself a little vulnerable. The rewards can be huge by connecting to a friend, family member or therapist in a new and deeper way.”

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