04:36 GMT +320 January 2020
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    Loneliness has often been described as a 21st century epidemic, especially in the Nordic countries, with introverted Scandinavians enjoying the image of being taciturn, reserved and aloof. People who are isolated socially run almost twice the risk of dying prematurely, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) reported.

    The THL participated in an epidemiological survey, which followed nearly half a million people. The study used UK Biobank material and made use of scientific contributions from international researchers. Its results were subsequently published in Lancet Public Health, a science magazine.

    In the research, both social isolation and feelings of loneliness were identified as factors increasing the risk of a premature death. Loneliness was also linked to factors such as health issues, smoking, alcohol abuse, socioeconomic problems and symptoms of depression, all of which contribute to the risk of untimely death. Incidentally, isolation and loneliness were found to have a particularly strong connection to cancer mortality.

    Ultimately, a correlation between loneliness and the risk of premature death was found to be applicable to men and women, the youth and the elderly, long-term illness sufferers and healthy people, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.

    "Society should direct more attention to the prevention of loneliness and especially isolation. This can be influenced, among other things, via activities that unite the social community," Professor Marko Elovainio, who had led the survey, told the Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet.

    Constant loneliness was identified as a health hazard even if one doesn't feel lonely. However, the need for social contacts was ruled to be individual, which is why simply being alone bears no direct threats. Nevertheless, the researchers emphasized the importance of functioning social and health care services, especially mental health services to support single people.

    Loneliness was previously characterized as a real problem faced by all age groups by former Finnish President Tarja Halonen and has since gained considerable attention in the media and in scientific circles.

    A previous study by the University of Turku found loneliness to affect people's physical and mental health, triggering the emergence or exacerbation of mental and somatic diseases and limiting one's performance. Overall, loneliness explained 57 percent of the men's and 54 percent of the women's health and psychosocial problems and 69 percent of the men's and 59 percent of the women's self-reported health issues.

    In late 2015, the THL warned that over 400,000 of Finland's total population of 5.4 million felt lonely, with the burden of isolation increasing during holidays. Loneliness was described as a "life-threatening condition," bearing greater risks than obesity.

    Yet another report associated living alone with a substantially increased risk of alcohol-related mortality, irrespective of gender, socioeconomic status, or the specific cause of death.

    ​The recent report was financed by the Academy of Finland, the Scandinavian research board NordForsk and the UK Medical Research Council. In the study, 466,901 men and women were included, with a mean follow-up of 6.5 years. Apart from the THL, the Universities of Turku and Helsinki and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health contributed.

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    social isolation, isolation, loneliness, Scandinavia, Finland
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