Key Informant Perspectives on Rural Social Isolation and Loneliness
Social isolation encompasses objective lack of social contact, or social disconnectedness, as well as more subjective feelings of loneliness, both of which affect health. It is directly related to increased morbidity and mortality, both of which are elevated in rural areas compared with urban areas. In fact, recent research shows that social isolation poses as great of a risk to mortality as obesity and smoking. Social isolation has been linked to increased healthcare costs and with a variety of poor health outcomes, including increased risk of high blood pressure, stress, substance use, depression, suicide, and Alzheimer's disease, as well as diminished immune system functioning.
Given the geographic and spatial aspects of social isolation as well as the uniqueness of rural communities and life experiences, specific attention should be paid to social isolation in rural areas. Rural-tailored information could inform effective intervention strategies to increase social connection in these communities. However, research on rural-urban differences in social isolation is limited and more information is needed regarding effective strategies to inform policy-making. This policy brief addresses gaps in the literature and provides policy-relevant information by identifying key issues in rural social isolation and potential opportunities to intervene, based on interviews with rural stakeholders who are actively working on issues related to social isolation in their communities.