Sperling Prostate Center

Is Loneliness a Men’s Health Problem?

Have you ever felt lonely, empty, friendless? I’m sure at one time or another, each of us has found ourselves feeling alone and forlorn. Sometimes it’s brought on by circumstances, sometimes it’s the result of choices we’ve made. Even if it’s only temporary, it can be bleak and depressing.

Men’s Health Week is an annual international event assigned to the seven days in June leading up to Father’s Day. Though not observed in every country, it’s an opportunity to focus on wellness among the males of our species. The media seize the opportunity to exhort men to see their doctors for regular checkups, participate in prostate cancer screenings, quit smoking, eat more plant-based foods, drink less alcohol, etc. There’s a heavy emphasis on being physically healthy.

Yet wellness doesn’t stop with our bodies. Men’s Health Week finds many mental health organizations taking advantage of this week to focus on psychological, emotional and social problems that particularly affect men, thought to be the product of nature (our biology), nurture (how we’re raised and acculturated) or a combination of both.

During the 2023 Men’s Health Week, a national Australian organization called Healthy Male (founded in 2000) chose to target loneliness as a men’s health issue. Their website banner proclaimed, “43% of Australian men feel lonely,” followed by the statement that this is a public health crisis only beginning to be understood.

The word lonely means different things to different people. It isn’t necessarily negative. Here’s a small sample of the varied observations on the subject:

  • It is far better to be alone than to be in bad company. (George Washington)
  • The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • Loneliness is not lack of company; loneliness is lack of purpose. (Guillermo Maldonado)
  • If you are lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company. (Jean-Paul Sartre)
  • Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone. (Paul Tillich)

According to Healthy Male, loneliness is not in itself a problem but if it’s the result of an unmet need, it can erode a man’s sense of wellbeing. They define it as “… a feeling of sadness or distress (emotional suffering) you get when your relationships with others aren’t meeting your need for personal connection. Just as hunger tells us we need food, loneliness tells us a different fundamental need is not being met.” They point out that such an intangible concern can have a very tangible effect. Deep, chronic loneliness can lead to physical harm. It has the equivalent damaging effect on your biology as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and can be as bad for your health as obesity, high blood pressure or not getting enough exercise, raising the risk of heart disease, stroke, depression and anxiety. As if that weren’t enough, loneliness is associated with aging-related cognitive decline and dementia, greater likelihood of high stress, increased tendency toward poor life-work balance.

How lonely are you?

If you’re lonely in the sense that it’s negatively affecting your sense of wellness or happiness, it may not take much reflection to realize it. However, it can be a vague thing to pin down. Healthy Male offers a self-assessment tool, a simple 3-question quiz you can take in the privacy of your own computer. The resulting analysis of your level of loneliness is hardly a professional evaluation, but at least it’s food for thought.

Each man’s recipe for connecting to others is, of course, unique to him. The sense of being depressingly lonely is subjective. Many introverted people can seem lonely to their fellow extraverts but are themselves not at all troubled by solitary time. On the other hand, we’ve likely all known men who appear to thrive in social limelight yet never let on that they are dying inside of disconnection.

What’s the solution to troubling loneliness?

Healthy Male can’t solve the problem for those whose loneliness is eating away at their emotional and mental health. However, it offers this wisdom: “… investing in your relationships with others is a good way to avoid loneliness. It’s about ‘filling your cup’ with social relationships that feel significant to you, and that are based on mutual respect, trust, interests and values.” Like many important transformations, it’s good to start with small, achievable steps. Healthy Male’s suggests four actionable remedies for chronic loneliness:

  1. Connect with others (e.g., plan a social activity, make a phone or video call)
  2. Join groups or clubs that fit with your interests/activity preferences
  3. Volunteer – a great way to add a dose of purpose to your life
  4. Seek professional help if your loneliness is persistent or overwhelming

Achieving peak health

At the Sperling Prostate Center, our interest in men’s health obviously begins with a walnut-size gland that exists in all males. However, our commitment to the whole person encompasses all levels of his being, as evidenced by our many blogs on diet, exercise, mental/emotional wholeness, lifestyle, even broad social issues like healthcare economics, ethnic/racial disparities, and medical practice issues. I thank Healthy Male for spotlighting loneliness during 2023 as a men’s health issue, and offering pathways out of it.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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