Screening for Loneliness?


Screening for Loneliness?

Models used for illustrative purposes

by Don Ingwerson

This post was originally posted July 30, 2012

Early in life, I discovered the importance and the relationship between health and performance.

While in the military, I worked in a chapel located where all new recruits in that region were sent to do basic training.  As the chaplain’s assistant, I saw their loneliness first hand and often discussed the importance of prayer with them. Fear of the unknown, missing friends and family left them physically unable to serve; upon medical diagnosis many were directed to report to what the military calls “sick bay.”

I soon discovered that their lack of “mental peace” was creating their physical illness. As a result, the recruits were not able to physically perform to the standard expected by the military. It was apparent that their symptoms were being treated but not the root cause, which was mental and emotional. Once the mental and emotional issues were addressed, the physical symptoms disappeared and they returned to duty.

Based upon my experience, health screening must include more than a physical exam.

What I found interesting is that in an article, “Doctors asked to consider loneliness in health assessment,” author Carolyne Kruppa stated that an Archives of Internal Medicine study published June 18 urged physicians to screen for loneliness. By screening for loneliness, the medical community may be stretching beyond their normal role. Dr. Pacala, associate professor and associate head of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School picks up on this when he states, “Loneliness is less of a medical type of concept. I just think it doesn’t enter the medical mindset.” These reports indicate that loneliness may be a health factor but the medical profession is not equipped to diagnose and treat it.

My military experience tells me that treating loneliness is essential, and that it should be added to a list of medical screening items, which need to be considered when evaluating patients. And the treatment should include alternative therapies – one of which is prayer.

An NIH study I recently read found that prayer was a factor in improved health. “Those who pray had more favorable health-related behaviors, preventive service use, and satisfaction with care. Discussion of prayer could help guide customization of clinical care.” In the study, 47.2% of the people in the study said that they prayed for health and 90.3% of that group of people believed that prayer improved their health. Those people who prayed also showed more social support than those who did not pray. This support may very well counteract conditions of loneliness and enhance performance.

Pew research indicates that most individuals believe in prayer and do pray. An early Christian writer, Mary Baker Eddy, spoke of loneliness as doubt, darkness a wilderness time in one’s experience. It would seem from the research that many physicians are not interested in, or equipped to treat or diagnose loneliness, and that it could best be addressed by alternative therapies – especially prayer in which the public has expressed confidence and survey results have indicated improved health performance.

Article first published in Blogcritics.

About the author

Don Ingwerson Don regularly blogs on health and spirituality and lives in Laguna Beach with his wife - both Christian Science practitioners. He brings his years serving the public in education to his work as a liaison of Christian Science, where he maintains contacts with the media and legislative offices.


  1. says

    Maybe some terrorists or worse fit into this category of suffering from loneliness. I remember thinking often, as a child, that no one really cared whether I existed or not. Fortunately, I found comfort in books and the realization that there is a world beyond what I was experiencing. One in particular, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, provided a life-line that inspired and comforted me by showing me a broader, fuller concept of life itself and my identity.
    But how should the medical address the issue? This bears some deep consideration. Perhaps they might research some spiritual and inspirational resources to recommend, just as you did, Don.

  2. Pamela says

    Thanks Don, I loved this blog when I read it last July and am so happy you brought it back. This is a reminder we all need. There are so many lonely people out in the world and they don’t know what to do about it. Certainly the medical field needs to address this better and those who don’t go the medical route need our loving prayers also. Elderly people who find themselves suddenly alone and just don’t know how to cope need our loving support. We need to “love our neighor as ourselves” as Christ Jesus commanded. And do it better by including them in our prayers for the world.

    We have a neighbor who lost her husband a few years ago and has struggled with loneliness from time to time. My husband and I try to have her over for dinner at least once a week and on her birthday this year we took her to dinner and the theater. This is something we can all do for others. Invite somone who is alone to dinner or to lunch, just go over and visit with them or invite them to tea. Any small gesture of kindness or love is so appreciated by someone struggling with loneliness. We can all help with this one.

  3. Anne says

    I was so deeply touched by Evelyn’s story. How wonderful that she found “Science and Health” to give her comfort and solace.

    And Pamela’s unselfishness in meeting a meighbor’s need is an important reminder to be sensitive to others’ needs.

    Thank you ladies for sharing your lovely thoughts.

  4. diana says

    I like Pamela’s ideas about visiting and inviting someone who might feel lonely!

  5. Anne Hughes says

    I was widowed for a second time within a few years. As I was about to enter the beautiful home we had bought together, the suggestion came that it would feel so empty inside and I would be alone. Just as quickly Divine Love comforted me with a clear, strong thought that inside was “the teeming universe of Mind” [Mary Baker Eddy]. I was able to stay happily in that lovely home until a whole new experience and location unfolded for me. When I got to my destination across the continent, friends I had known from a different location folded me into their activities, taking me to worthwhile church activities in the region that connected me almost instantly to my new location. In addition to that, new employment filled my days, and eventually I remarried. My own dear children continued to embrace me and all this newness. What a blessing! Thank you for this posting.

  6. says

    The study included 48 college students, some of whom were assigned to take a two-week mindfulness training class, and some of whom were assigned to take a two-week nutrition class. In the mindfulness class, students learned how to use mindfulness in their everyday routines, as well as to stay focused on the present without being distracted. In the nutrition class, students learned about healthy eating strategies and were asked to keep a food log.