The pathologization of emotion has been on the march for decades, especially in the US, where fully one sixth of the adult population takes an antidepressant or other psychiatric drug. Now the mental-health industry has a new target – loneliness.
Nearly half of Americans polled last year by health insurer Cigna said they lacked meaningful relationships or companionship. A solutions-based society might examine why so many people feel alienated from their peers despite the constant connectivity of smartphones and internet. A symptom-focused model, however, simply looks to stop them from feeling that way by any means necessary.
Loneliness is “worse than obesity,” according to a raft of studies that have emerged linking the emotion to increased risk of premature death, and even rivals smoking. And like obesity – big business for Big Pharma, gastric bypass surgeons and weight-loss gurus – it requires medical intervention.
THERE’S A PILL FOR THAT
The University of Chicago’s Brain Dynamics Laboratory recently began an eight-week trial of the hormone pregnenolone, rounding up volunteers with “off-the-chart” scores on a psychological loneliness scale. Based on animal studies suggesting the chemical can reduce the exaggerated threat reactions that researchers say characterize loneliness, they hope to normalize the lonely person’s self-centered hyper-vigilance that drives them to both desire human connection and deal poorly with it.