DETROIT – A different kind of mid-life crisis is facing a growing number of men.
At a time when we are more "connected" than ever through social media, experts say about one in five Americans is suffering from "persistent loneliness." Many of those are middle-aged men.
When we're younger, friendships play a central role in our lives, but as we focus more intensely on our careers and building a family, those friendships often shift to the back burner. Some men are finding they don't have the supportive circle they once did, and aren't sure how to rebuild it.
Hoping to avoid that, Rev. Bradford Clark and his friend Jim Field make a point of getting together regularly.
"I do believe that loneliness in middle-aged men is serious, is a real concern, absolutely," Clark said.
"A lot of times, I find my purpose through my friendships with others, but friendships require cultivation, just like a garden," Field said.
Friendships can naturally evolve as we age, but life-changing events like a death in the family, divorce, or job loss can also trigger isolation. It happens more often in men than in women.
"It's a given that women are much quicker to pick up the phone, much quicker to have lunch, much quicker to sit and talk face-to-face and guys don't do that," Clark said.
Dr. Richard Schwartz wrote "The Lonely American" with his wife and has consulted patients for more than 30 years.
"Everybody doesn't want to say they are lonely because it makes you feel like a loser. You are not a loser if you are lonely," Schwartz said. "Most will tell you something had to give and what gave is friends. I think of myself as having friends, but I don't see them anymore and so over time the people start to slip away and they realize the connections aren't there."
It's not just bad for our mental health. Studies find chronic loneliness increases levels of stress hormones and inflammation in the body. It can boost blood pressure raising the risk of heart attack and strokes. Feeling isolated can also have a negative impact on our sleep and memory.
"The effect of social isolation and loneliness on our health is as powerful as things like smoking, high blood pressure, obesity," Schwartz said.
So what can men do? Work to maintain the friendships you have as you age, especially during those critical life transitions. Seek out people who enjoy similar activities by joining a club related to your favorite sport or hobby or starting volunteering for a cause you care about. Anything that gets you out regularly and in the company of others can help. Be sure to reach out to others who seem isolated.
“It is like that Nike slogan, ‘Just do it.’ Don’t think about it. Just do it. Call somebody up and invite them to do something with you,” Clark said.