At school, boys are often quick to become friends with each other. They bond over sports or superhero movies. However, finding these lifelong friendships as men grow older becomes increasingly difficult.
They may be able to point to plenty of acquaintances, but are lacking meaningful deep friendships, especially compared to women.
This can lead to social isolation in men, which has negative health effects and can even be seen as a cause for early death. Recent research suggests that social isolation increases the chances of depression, with the risk of dementia rising by 64% among those people. There are also measurable physical effects caused by extreme social isolation. This has been shown to be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, which equates to a 29% increase in the risk of mortality.
Why is it a Problem for Men?
Men it seems are less willing to reach out to family, friends or to access the health services they require when dealing with an emotional issue, such as depression or sadness due to the loss of a spouse from death or divorce.
But social isolation in men from lack of companionship, friendships or not getting the proper mental health services is a particular problem for older men, and this can lead to further decline of health if not addressed.
Whilst 12% of older women have less monthly contact with their friends than before, this number increases to 19% for older men. Men living alone also report being lonelier than women who live on their own. And as an increasing number of men are now living without a roommate, spouse or family member, the issue of male social isolation will only increase too, leading to health issues that can impact their quality of life.
What Can Be Done?
Solutions to this problem exist on an individual, organisational and governmental level. Governments and voluntary organisations can begin by making sure that men understand the potentially fatal consequences of suffering from social isolation. Once men are aware of the problem, they can start to make an effort to initiate and maintain meaningful relationships. These new connections, however, should exist outside of romantic relationships and family relations.
Furthermore, it is important for men to take the time to remember their interests and actively take part in them, even into old age. Even something as simple as going to a sports event or a music concert with friends can make a huge, positive impact on their life and overall well-being.
If an older man is without a spouse and their friends have either moved away or passed away, these men need to reach out to senior centers, religious organizations, hospitals and other groups
The first step to solving any public health crisis is awareness. We need to understand the fragility of men’s relationships as they age. If we know the potential consequences of becoming socially isolated, we can intervene earlier and more effectively.
Jane Sandwood is a professional freelance writer with over 10 years’
experience across many fields. She decided to move into freelancing to take
advantage of the flexibility and work-life balance it offers. Jane has a
particular interest in issues relating to education, diet and fitness.