Why community matters: You may be lonely, even if you are not alone

Have you felt lonely at some point in the past week? If so, you are not alone. Large surveys show just how widespread the effects of loneliness can be. According to the Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index, a survey conducted by global health service company Cigna, 54 percent of participants feel like no one knows them well. In addition, 46 percent of those surveyed report sometimes or always feeling alone.

Survey statistics offer proof that loneliness affects many, if not all of us. Humans are predisposed to feeling lonely. Through the process of natural selection, humans have been rewarded for collaboration, and group activity has become deeply ingrained into our genetic makeup. When separated from group activity, it is natural for people to feel social pain. Feeling socially isolated activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain and can be devastating for long-term health. Feeling lonely can have the same negative effects as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, can lead to memory loss, and (according to a BYU study) increases the likelihood of premature death by 26 percent.

Feeling socially isolated activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain and can be devastating for long-term health. Feeling lonely can have the same negative effects as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.       

A common misconception is that loneliness only affects elderly people. In fact, studies have shown that loneliness affects people of all ages and is most prevalent from the age of 18-22. We currently live in the most connected age in history. Social media has allowed people to expand their social circles from a typical 150 person group to connecting with thousands. Despite the thousands of likes, shares, comments, and posts floating from person to person on the internet, loneliness is still a major problem facing society.

A key to combating loneliness? Human interaction. The Cigna survey participants with daily in-person interactions showed the lowest average loneliness score. Liking an Instagram photo is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Luckily, technology can also be used to facilitate in-person social interactions.

Platonic, an application built by Duluth-based startup MC-Cubed aims to do just that. The application allows users to meet up with people who have similar interests, on short notice. Whether it is a morning run, going to the movies, or grabbing a drink after work, Platonic helps build strong, in-person relationships that create a lasting, real-life community.