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Screening for Loneliness?

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Early in life, I discovered the importance of 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 and 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 the recruits’ lack of “mental peace” was creating their physical illness. As a result, they 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 the recruits returned to duty.

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

What I found interesting is that in her article, “Doctors asked to consider loneliness in health assessment,” 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 its normal role. Dr. James 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 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 subjects said that they prayed for health and 90.3% of that group believed that prayer improved their health. Those 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.

photo taken by Derk Stenvers

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About Don Ingwerson

Previously in the education sector as Superintendent of Schools, Don Ingwerson now serves as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Southern California and corrects misconceptions about Christian Science. Don is a frequent blogger about health and spirituality.