We’re a lonely society. Twenty-five percent of American households consist of one person living alone; 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce (affecting more than a million children); 30 percent of American births in 1991 were to unmarried women. These factors are linked to an increased risk of premature death, according to loneliness specialist James J. Lynch, Ph.D., who has spent almost four decades clarifying how loneliness contributes to a marked increased risk of developing premature coronary heart disease. “Mortality rates in the United States for all causes of death, and not just for heart disease, are consistently higher for divorced, single, and widowed individuals of both sexes and all races,” writes Lynch in A Cry Unheard: New Insights into the Medical Consequences of Loneliness.
An important point in this book is that loneliness in childhood has “a significant impact on the incidence of serious disease and premature death decades later in adulthood.” School failure is a major contributor to this problem. Children who fail in school are socially isolated and deficient in the language and communications skills that could help them overcome their isolation. Lynch also explores the links between loneliness and premature death, and describes the biological power of human dialogue–which, he says, is more intimate than sexual intercourse, because dialogue involves the heart, not just the body. This is not a fluffy, feel-good book. There are no quick tips, no instant relief from loneliness, no “do now” lists of activities. This book is for readers willing to delve into the subject of loneliness and health risk. Lynch wants you to understand the magnitude of the problem, which he presents in a style that is both academic (with plenty of statistics and graphs) and accessible. He also wants you to understand the complex solution: contact, companionship, and communication. –Joan Price