The following information and my ideas are based on this article, Social Isolation: It Can Kill You, in the May issue of the Monitor on Psychology. Lately much of my time has been engaged with conference planning, so I have been thinking about the meaning of the conference to me and to the membership. I think that is why this article caught my eye.
Is loneliness increasing or have humans always experienced it occasionally over a lifetime? Are we just more aware of loneliness and inclined to talk about it more often? Some research shows that social isolation is indeed increasing. This is important because of the associated health risks. According to a meta-analysis co-authored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad at Brigham Young University, “lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder” (p 33). She also found that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to your health as obesity. Being connected to others is considered to be a basic human need crucial to well-being and survival. Campaigns to reduce social isolation using evidenced-based interventions and advocacy have been launched in Australia, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. Loneliness is not synonymous with chosen solitude or isolation, rather it is defined by people’s levels of satisfaction with their connectedness or perceived social isolation. Connectedness is the key since people can feel isolated and lonely when surrounded by people—being lonely in a crowd.
What does this have to do with SIETAR USA? As I see it, two things. One is the feeling of connection that being a member provides. I’ve always maintained that my membership in SIETAR USA is one way I can claim to be an interculturalist. If you are a doctor or lawyer, you have a degree and a license that say you are one. Other professions provide licensing and special certifications. Interculturalists do not have that so for me, my membership in SIETAR USA has become part of my professional identity.
And second, attending a SIETAR USA conference is one way to combat social isolation. One major goal of the conference organizers is inclusion, making all attendees feel welcome, supported, included. Do we always hit that goal 100%? No, but we try. It is difficult (but not impossible) to feel lonely at a SIETAR USA conference. I have heard a number of people refer to the conference as “coming home” or “finding my clan.” There is a sense of belonging that many participants unexpectedly feel.
Here is another consideration: Nikolas Steffens PhD and his research team at the University of Queensland tracked 424 people after retirement and found that compared to those still working, every dropped membership was associated with around a 10 % decrease in quality of life 6 years later. If participants belonged to two groups before retirement and afterward kept them up over 6 years, their risk of death was 2%, rising to 5% if they gave up one membership and to 12% if they dropped both.
So, join us at the SIETAR USA National Conference in Atlanta to combat any social isolation you might be experiencing. And be sure to renew your membership in SIETAR USA—it might prolong your life!
Sandra M. Fowler
President, SIETAR USA