“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
According to research, doctors and lawyers are the loneliest professionals. That is not good because loneliness is linked to social isolation and increased risks of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety.
How do you define loneliness?
I went to Wikipedia to look for a definition. It says, “Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation.”
People may surround you, as doctors are, and still feel lonely. It seems there is lack of connection and/or communication with other people. You may be close to them but still do not feel connected. This can create a lot of anxiety and unhappiness.
According to a survey published in the Harvard Business Review, doctors and lawyers are among America’s loneliest workers, followed by people who work in engineering and science.
Lauren Vogel’s article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ July 20, 2018) quotes a study that says, “Lawyers and doctors were the loneliest by far, reporting levels of loneliness 25 per cent higher than respondents with bachelor’s degrees and 20 per cent higher than those with PhDs.”
What makes doctors lonely?
After high school doctors have to go through a challenging ordeal to get into a medical school and then go through residency and specialisation. That is about 10 years. During that time the doctor gets married and has children. Starting a practice and providing dedicated service takes a lot of years. After all that the doctor has very little time to have friends to unwind with.
All the friends you had in your high school years are not around. And if you do run into them then you find there is nothing much to talk about. There is no common ground.
By contrast, workers in marketing, sales and social work are the least lonely, likely because these fields are highly social. Income is not important when it comes to loneliness. And workers with higher levels of education report higher levels of loneliness.
What are the health effects of loneliness?
Early death is one possibility, says an article in Perspect Psychol Sci. (March 2015). One study showed loneliness has similar health effects to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
A lonely individual costs the health care system more than those who are in a socially happy environment. As mentioned earlier research has linked social isolation to increased risks of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety.
Social isolation is considered such a growing problem in the United Kingdom that the government appointed a Minister for Loneliness whose tasks will include helping to develop “the evidence-base around the impact of different initiatives in tackling loneliness, across all ages and within all communities.”
What can we do?
It is important for doctors and other professionals to build a social circle. It is easy to face the challenges of loneliness if you have good family and friends to stand by you.
Behaviour experts say loneliness among doctors and other professional depends on how much of a culture of social support is in the workplace. Doctors and lawyers have none of that, as they are independent practitioners.
Loneliness affects someone in every family. That should not be the case as we are biologically designed to be nourished by connections. Let us sing Buck Owens’ lyrics:
Hello happiness, goodbye loneliness
Farewell heartaches and so long strife
No more sadness only gladness…
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