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The Aetna Social Isolation Sentimeter™: Understanding the impact of social isolation

March 18, 2021 | Health Insurance

A middle aged man sitting alone at home looking at a computer and holding papers.

Medical research shows that loneliness and social isolation are associated with negative health behaviors and a wide range of illnesses. In fact, the health impact of loneliness has been equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad 2010). To better understand the feelings, drivers and barriers of social isolation among groups across the United States, Aetna recently conducted research on this important issue.

By gathering, mining and analyzing the open-sourced, unbiased and unfiltered conversations happening online, the Aetna Social Isolation Sentimeter™ (PDF) (Versión del informe PDF en español) can effectively map the impact of social isolation on a particular group's overall attitude. We can use these real-time, authentic resources to understand how social isolation impacts people at varying financial levels, people with differing health statuses, people living in various geographic areas, and seniors in different demographic groups.

Key learnings

Based on the research of online discussions of social isolation, we found interesting results across the different groups in the study:

  • “Healthy” people described loneliness as having a negative impact on their self-esteem, while “unhealthy” people indicated that social isolation directly impacted their mental health and sometimes fueled depression.

  • People “struggling financially” and people “living comfortably” both described how social isolation brought on depression and a negative effect on their self-esteem.

  • People living in urban areas shared feelings of loneliness and a desire to connect with a larger community to boost self-esteem, while people living in rural areas felt that social isolation directly impacts their mental health, increasing both depression and anxiety.

  • For seniors, social isolation had a negative impact on their emotional state – specifically for Black Americans and Hispanic Americans, loneliness and depression were consequences of social isolation.

Although our findings suggest these groups seek authentic and community-based support, we understand that there is no one size fits all approach. To understand the impact of social isolation, we must provide personalized and compassionate support.

The Spanish language translations of the Project Isolation Infographics can be viewed by topic area: health status, financial status, location and seniors.