When I was in university, I experienced serious loneliness. I would lie on the floor or sit in the chair staring at the window or ceiling for several hours at night, waiting for that first light in the morning to comfort me, the result of which only being a more serious impulse to escape from real life. I nearly got depression, but my family and friends helped me out.
Loneliness affects about 20% of American adults, which is also linked to depression, cardiovascular disease and dementia. Researchers wanted to look into the association between loneliness and post actions on Twitter.
Researchers applied linguistic analytic models to tweets, and found users who tweeted about loneliness post significantly more often about mental well-being concerns and things like struggles with relationships, substance use, and insomnia.
This finding can help identify users who are lonely, so that support can be provided to them. “Loneliness can be a slow killer,” as the lead author of the study, Sharath Chandra Guntuku said.
Researchers evaluated more than 6,000 people whose tweets include words like “lonely” or “alone” more than 5 times over the period 2012 to 2016. Comparing these people to those who do not use the words as frequently, researchers found that “lonely” users tweeted nearly twice as much and were much more likely to do so at night.
They also found that when compared to non-lonely people, lonely people tend to express more anger, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, the lonely people were significantly associated with tweeting about:
Struggles with relationships (“want somebody” or “no one to”)
Substance use (“smoke,” “weed,” and/or “drunk”)
Issues with regulating their emotions (“I just wanna,” “I can’t,” and/or the use of expletives)
User who didn’t post about loneliness seemed to be involved in some social connections, as they were found to be more likely to engage in conversations, or include others’ user names in their tweets.
“If we are able to identify lonely individuals and intervene before the health conditions associated with the themes we found begin to unfold, we have a change to help those much earlier in their lives. This could be very powerful and have long-lasting effects on public health." Said Guntuku.