Everyone has experienced loneliness at some point in their lives, but it has been magnified now that we are physically separated from friends and family because of COVID-19.

Loneliness can lead to heart problems, depression or substance abuse. It’s an emotion as individual as the person who is experiencing it. Whatever the specifics, we know loneliness affects health.

A 2018 study found that loneliness peaks at three ages: late 20s, mid-50s and late 80s.

“The way society is, in general, can lend itself to loneliness,” said Patricia Student, an APRN at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Mass. “We are more transient—families split up, kids go to college, people move for jobs.”

While learning to adapt to live without your people can be traumatic, it’s important to remember loneliness does not necessarily mean being alone.

“While it can happen at any time, we tend to see a lot of loneliness in the elderly or when people retire from their careers,” Student said.

Moving to a new place, particularly a large city, can be a time when loneliness emerges.

In fact, the problem was so alarming that London appointed its first minister for loneliness after a UK-wide survey reported some nine million people suffered from it.

“The problem stems from social connectedness,” Student said. “Humans are social and we need to stay connected and engaged with one another. We need to be connected to something larger than ourselves.”

Many studies have shown the detrimental effects of loneliness. If left unattended it can lead to substance abuse, suicidal tendencies or other health problems.

The good news is that our culture has become keenly aware of the condition, especially during these challenging times. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health provided suggestions for residents of the Commonwealth, such as virtual meet-ups, exercising while practicing social distancing outdoors and taking breaks from social media and the news.

For additional resources to combat loneliness, Student suggests looking online. “There are opportunities for care and treatment but often people aren’t aware they exist.”