By Lilo Stainton | NJ Spotlight
South Jersey residents who feel socially isolated are twice as likely to experience heart disease as those who are more connected to their community, three times more likely to report mental health issues and four times more likely to misuse drugs, according to new research from Rutgers University in Camden.
The findings are part of a report by the university’s Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs, which highlights how personal connections to people and places affect an individual’s physical and mental health.
While academics have traditionally focused on social isolation among the elderly, the Rand study found that in South Jersey, it’s young people who are more likely to be lonely. According to its findings, millennial residents are 50% more likely to say they feel alone than their elders, and twice as likely to report they face mental and physical health challenges.
“Our study revealed a strong and surprising relationship between age and social isolation,” the authors wrote, noting that interviews with college students led to some surprising findings. “Interestingly, these students blamed social media for this difficulty. Because social media makes superficial relationships easier, they said, it prevents the development of meaningful connections.”
In addition, while other research has shown childhood trauma — or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which impact an estimated 40% of the state’s youth — increase the chances of chronic health concerns down the road, Rand found these early incidents also could predict isolation later in life. Those who endured abuse or violence as youngsters were 3.6 times more likely to be unable to develop connections with others as adults, when compared to those who did not encounter ACEs, researchers discovered.
The report is based on nearly 2,400 personal surveys from residents living or working in five counties in the southwestern corner of the state — Burlington, Camden, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem — plus health-related data from public agencies and health care providers. It is part of a larger effort to better understand the health needs of a rural region with a limited population that doesn’t always get close attention in statewide studies, Rand said.