Loneliness kills, peer support alone doesn’t work


Suggestions for lonely or socially isolated adults have included taking a class, getting a dog, doing volunteer work and joining a senior center. A British program, called Befriending, involves one-on-one companionship by a volunteer who meets regularly with a lonely person. While such programs may show modest improvement on measures of depression and anxiety, their long-term significance is unknown. In a study of 14 trials of befriending, no significant benefit overall was found on measures of depression, quality of life, degree of loneliness, self-esteem and well-being.

Another program called LISTEN, developed by Laurie Theeke at the School of Nursing at West Virginia University, is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy to counter loneliness. It entails five two-hour sessions of small groups of lonely people who explore what they want from relationships, their needs, thought patterns and behaviors.

It is doubtful, however, that such an approach would be practical on a scale large enough to meet the need for cognitive restructuring of lonely adults nationwide.