By Dr. Heli McPhie of the Village Clinic in Tsawwassen
The surprising effects of loneliness on our mental and physical health
When Dr. Heli McPhie was invited to give a speech about loneliness, she began to research its effects on our mental and physical health. The naturopathic physician and co-founder of Tsawwassen’s The Village Clinic was stunned by what she learned.
“Loneliness is more detrimental than smoking and alcohol, and I was shocked at the number of people dying from the effects of loneliness,” says McPhie. “something needs to be done, fast.”
Studies suggest there is a strong correlation between an aging population and loneliness, which has been attributed to the fact that more people are living alone than ever before in modern times.
“Those who find themselves unexpectedly alone due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation are at particular risk,” says McPhie.
Perhaps what was equally surprising to McPhie is the finding that older adults are not necessarily the loneliest among us.
“One of the loneliest groups is the 18 to 24,” she notes. “We are social beings, and a such, we have a need for socialization at any age.”
The more McPhie investigated, the more she gained invaluable insight into the long-term effects of loneliness and isolation on health.
“There are increased risks of cardio vascular disease, increased inflammations, cognitive decline, weakened immune system, obesity and even Alzheimer’s disease, plus many more,” McPhie says, adding a Harvard study and a Ted Talk both suggest this as well.
In addition, McPhie has delved deeper into what kinds of interventions may reduce the associated risks, like helping ward off cognitive decline and other adverse health effects. One of the ways The Village Clinic is helping is by hosting evening events like group programs, book clubs, Pilates, lectures, beach walks and more, for everyone.
“The Village Clinic has always been, and continues to be, more than just a gathering place for the community,” adds McPhie. “We have found that collaborating within our clinic team but also with our patients healthcare practioners be that their MD, Physio, RMT etc. the patients get incredible care and results.”
The sad reality is, isolation and loneliness have been described as a plague of modern society. McPhie continues her studies into the devastating effects of loneliness on the human body and psyche, and question how we can best engage with one another in today’s increasingly insulated world.
“If we stay in a lonely state too long, we get into a hypervigilant (being on high alert) state. McPhie says. “Treating loneliness is all of our responsibility.”
Positive Effects of Connection (courtesy Dr. Heli McPhie)
Higher-functioning immune system
Lower rates of anxiety and depression
Happier, more optimistic outlook
Longer life expectancy
Stronger emotional regulation skills
Improved cognitive function
More empathy and feelings of trust toward others
Improved grooming, outlook, happiness
SIDEBAR: Little House Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Society
The society was founded more than 30 years ago
They offer support for drug and alcohol addiction
Services include individual and family counselling, group recovery meetings and workshops. Every resident of Delta can receive four FREE counselling sessions. The society takes a family-centered approach for family members of addicted loved ones.
Its website, www.littlehousesociety.ca , offers a wealth of information, resources and much more. Subscribe to its newsletter for important information about illegal and legal substances