Loneliness Research Still Making Friends

Magazine Issue
Spring 2018
Man in a suit and glasses standing in front of a glass window
Photograph courtesy of McKay School

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The impact of loneliness research by counseling psychology professor Timothy B. Smith from the

McKay School continues to grow. It has been influenc­ing public policy and improving social lives at home and abroad.

Proving that loneliness has similar health effects to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is worse for your health than alcoholism, high blood pressure, and obesity, the research of Smith and Julianne Holt-Lunstad, from BYU's Department of Psychology, was pub­lished in 2010 and 2015.

The research duo's testimony before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging resulted in legislation to make hearing aids more afford­able for seniors, because hearing loss is a significant predictor of social decline among the elderly.

Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, who served as the 19th surgeon general of the United States from 2014 to 2017, is also an advocate of this research. He referenced Smith and Holt-Lundstad's work in an article he wrote for Harvard Business Review.

The United Kingdom's recent estab­lishment of the Ministry of Loneliness is notable, with their Campaign to End Loneliness mentioning Smith and Holt-­Lunstad's study. The prime minister's office has often mentioned their work, including at a conference attended by the prime ministers of Northern Europe. The research is currently mentioned on more than 18,000 websites and has been cited 2,800 times by scholars.

Until recently, health organizations have not included any social recommen­dations. But the research showing that "social relationships are more predictive of longevity" than diet and exercise is changing that.

What is Smith's prescription for this loneliness epidemic? He counsels that each of us must strengthen our familial ties. "The family is the enduring social institution. No other connection exists across the entire lifespan with such depth and power," Smith said.