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Loneliness Amplified by the Three Megatrends of Urbanization, Mediatization, and Individualization Causes Pain, Contagion, and Death

Prof. Dr. Manfred Spitzer

Imagine a disease that causes chronic pain and is the leading cause of death in the civilized Western world. It is contagious and spreads faster than immunity from it. The disease is a significant risk factor for other common and deadly diseases: Those who suffer from it are more likely to get colds, depression, dementia, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. What makes matters worse is its insidious nature, because most people do not even know they suffer from it. And even medicine, as a science, has paid little attention to it so far. – You actually need not imagine this disease because it actually exists. Its name: Loneliness.

In the past decade, substantial progress has been made in elucidating the causes, effects, mechanisms, and consequences of loneliness, from basic research to clinical applications research. What has emerged is still little known, even to some physicians, not to mention the medical layperson. This is partly due to the fact that the published papers on the subject is scattered over a wide scientific literature landscape, in journals on immunology, epidemiology, psychosomatics, economics, social medicine, genetics, and geriatrics, to name just a few of the fields in which the problems and pathology of loneliness are discussed. Loneliness overlaps with, but is also distinct from, social isolation. Loneliness is painful, contagious, and lethal. A lot can be done to either decrease it or mitigate its effects.

Prof. Dr. Manfred Spitzer directs the psychiatric university hospital in Ulm and the Transfer Center, founded by him in 2004 for Neurosciences and Learning. The brain researcher and psychiatrist working at the interface between mind and brain in the areas of cognitive and social neuroscience. With his books and television shows (“Mind & Brain”, BR alpha) it conveys results and relationships of neuroscience comprehensible to the public.