Healthy Family | Home Safety | Health and Wealth | Relationship Issues | Career Advice | Growing Family
Get the SixWise e-Newsletter FREE!
Google Web
Free Newsletter Subscription
Get the Web's Most trusted & Informative Health, Wealth, Safety & More Newsletter -- FREE!


Share Email to a Friend Print This

How to Combat the Growing Problem of Loneliness and Social Isolation in Our Lives
by Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW for

Do you have a deeply trusted confidant, a friend so special and so dear to your heart that you feel totally at ease talking to her about your deepest secrets, your most profound sorrows, and your greatest joys?

Do you have more than one?

If you answered yes to one or both of the above two questions, you are part of a very fortunate but ever-shrinking group of Americans, according to an important new study about the widespread growth of social isolation in the United States.

Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociology professor at Duke University, and one of the key researchers involved in conducting this in-depth, comprehensive study, says the findings indicate that one fourth of Americans reported feeling that they have nobody with whom they can discuss their innermost thoughts, worries and woes.

According to Shankar Vendantam's recent Washington Post article about this study, this is "more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two."

What Katrina Can Teach Us About Our Increasing Sense of
Social Isolation and Our Decreasing Sense of Social Obligation


The latest research indicates that more of us are feeling more socially isolated than ever be

Like all Americans, Smith-Lovin was particularly struck by the deeply disturbing images of so many of our desperate, stranded fellow citizens waving from the rooftops of their ravaged homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Indeed, in the Washington Post article about her study, Smith-Lovin is quoted as saying that the Katrina images resonate with her so profoundly "because those people did not know someone with a car. There really is less of a safety net of close friends and confidants."

In addition, Smith-Lovin and her colleagues maintain that there is a direct connection between our nation's ever-growing sense of loneliness and social isolation and another, equally vexing social problem: a significant decrease in our collective sense of social obligation. Specifically, what sense of moral obligation do each of us feel toward our fellow citizens, especially when they are going through tough times-as so many did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?

What are the forces behind this dramatic increase in social isolation, and the corresponding drop in our sense of social obligation?

Not surprisingly, sociologists such as Robert D. Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone, cite numerous causes, including the dramatic increase in television watching over the past several decades, the similarly dramatic increase in the length of our commutes to and from work, and the fact that fewer and fewer of us are joining clubs (such as bowling leagues) and other social groups.

The question about whether the latest advances in communications technology (cell phones, email, the Internet, etc.), are bringing us closer together or driving us further apart remains unanswered-though of course sending email messages and "surfing the Net" do tend to be solitary activities for most people.

Certainly the older we get, the more effort is required of us to create and maintain new, lasting friendships with like-minded people. Children, teenagers, and even young adults have greater access to potential friends in their neighborhoods, schools, sports teams, summer camps, etc. At college, in particular, where many young people share the same living environment, they often have ample time and opportunity to engage in wonderfully long, late-night discussions about their innermost hopes, fears and dreams.

But as we age and become more wrapped up in the day-to-day responsibilities of managing our over-booked lives, we end up having less and less time to devote to the rather time-consuming but profoundly worthwhile task of building close, lasting friendships.

For this reason (among others), some adults come to regard their spouses or significant others as their one and only true confidants. But what if that one special person leaves or dies? It may sound morbid or depressing even to speculate about such things, but this is why people do need to have more than one close friend in their lives.

Exactly How and Where Can
Busy Adults Meet Potential Close Friends and Confidants?

socializing with friends

The good news is that there are many ways to expand our social horizons and form deep, lasting friendships.

  1. Join a pre-formed group that fulfills a particular need. For instance, if you are a stay-at-home parent of small children, consider joining a parenting group such as Mom's Club, chapters of which can be found in many communities throughout the U.S. Or, if you have a specific hobby or interest, join a group that is based on that hobby, such as a gardening club, an adult soccer league, a bowling team, or a book club. You can go to your town hall (or check your town's website) to find out more information about local clubs.

  2. If you are shy, or if your job requires you to engage in public speaking, consider attending some Toastmasters meetings, both as a way to enhance your social confidence, and as a way of meeting potential friends, who may also understand how it feels to struggle with shyness.

  3. If no group focused on your interests currently exists in your town or neighborhood, consider starting one of your own. For instance, I have a friend who moved to a new town, and as a way to meet some of her new neighbors, she decided to launch a book discussion club, a club that continues to meet monthly to this very day. Through this club (that she took the initiative to start), my friend has met several very nice people, including one person who has now become one of her closest confidantes!

  4. Many people find (or rediscover) a profound sense of community and social connectedness by starting to attend (or returning to) religious services at their local churches, synagogues, mosques, and/or other places of worship.

  5. If you are a busy single parent, consider attending a dance sponsored by your local chapter of Parents Without Partners. Not only is it possible to meet potential romantic partners at such events, but it's also possible to meet potential friends who are also single parents. and who therefore already understand many of the joys and challenges that you face every day.

  6. Consider volunteering at a hospital or community organization, where you are likely to meet other, equally civic-minded people (and potential good friends).

  7. If you don't already know your neighbors, consider striking up a conversation the next time you see one of them. You never know-sometimes simple, good-natured, neighborly small talk can lead to more interesting and profound conversations.

  8. Consider taking a continuing education class at one of your local colleges or universities, and, once you get there, talk to the professor and the other people you meet in the classroom, not just about the subject at hand, but about any interesting topic that comes to mind.

  9. Make a point of taking an interest in everyone you happen to meet. Almost every individual who crosses your path has at least one fascinating story to share, so ask questions that are not excessively probing and personal, but that do manage to show your genuine interest in your fellow human beings.

  10. Consider reconnecting with a former dear friend who you have fallen out of touch with in recent years. You might be surprised to find out just how easy it can be to "pick up right where you left off" with certain great friends from your past.

Recommended Reading

The Real Friend Test: How To Understand Who Your Real Friends Are

How and Why To Teach Kids To Care: What Amazing New Studies Suggest

How To Make All Your Relationships Work


Washington Post

Bowling Alone

International Mom's Club,

Toastmasters International

Parents Without Partners, Inc.

About the Author contributing editor Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW, is the author of the e-book, Loving Simply: Eliminating Drama from Your Intimate Relationships, published in 2006 by, and the print book, Welcome to Methadonia: A Social Worker's Candid Account of Life in a Methadone Clinic, published in 2000 by White Hat Communications.

Her articles have appeared in Social Work Today, The New Social Worker, New Living Magazine, and other publications. After earning her MSW from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work in1997, she provided counseling services, first at a methadone clinic, and later at an outpatient mental health treatment facility.

Ms. Baldino has been quoted about managing anger in relationships in Kathy Svitil's 2006 book, Calming The Anger Storm, which is part of the Psychology Today Here To Help series. She has also been quoted in such magazines, newspapers and online publications as For Me Magazine, Conceive Magazine, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Albany Times Union, The Tallahassee Democrat, Bay State Parent Magazine,,,, The Newhouse News Service, and Indianapolis Woman. She lives with her husband and children in Massachusetts.

To get more information about this and other highly important topics, sign up for your free subscription to our weekly "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter.

With every issue of the free newsletter, you’ll get access to the insights, products, services, and more that can truly improve your well-being, peace of mind, and therefore your life!

Share Email to a Friend Print This