TIME Diet/Nutrition

12 Reasons Why Dehydration Is Bad for Your Body

Being dehydrated can take a toll on your body and even your mind

It doesn’t take much to become dehydrated. Lose just 1.5% of the water in your body (the human body is usually about 60% H2O), and you’ve reached the tipping point of mild dehydration. It can be brought on by many things—and it can do much more to your body than just make you feel thirsty. Dehydration also brings on health effects ranging from fatigue and smelly breath to more dangerous consequences like distracted driving.

It gives you bad breath

It’s easy to forget to drink water during a busy workday, but at the end of the day you may find people standing unusually far from you when you open your mouth. “Dehydration can give you bad breath,” says Marshall Young, DDS, a dentist in Newport Beach, Calif. “Saliva has important antibacterial properties. When dehydrated, the decreased saliva in the mouth allows bacteria to thrive, resulting in bad breath.” So drink up for your own sake, and for those around you as well.

It makes you crave sugar

Dehydration can mask itself as hunger, particularly sugar cravings. This may happen particularly if you’ve been exercising, says Amy Goodson, RD, sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys. “When you exercise in a dehydrated state, you use glycogen (stored carbohydrate) at a faster rate, thus diminishing your stores more quickly.” So once you finish exercising, you will likely crave carbs to help you replenish those glycogen levels and get you ready for your next exercise bout.

It wrecks your workout

Even being slightly dehydrated affects your ability to put effort into your workout. “A 2% dehydration level in your body causes a 10% decrease in athletic performance,” says Goodson. “And the more dehydrated you become, the worse performance gets.” Measured by “perceived exertion,” how hard you feel you’re exercising, you might be working at a 6 but you feel like you are working at an 8, says Goodson.

It dries your skin out

Keeping skin healthy and glowing requires drinking enough water, says Anne Marie Tremain, MD, a dermatologist with Laser Skin Care Center Dermatology Associates in Long Beach, Calif. “It’s best to hydrate from the inside out,” she says. “Depending on your lifestyle you may need to adjust your water intake.” If you work out every day or are a caffeine fiend, for instance, then you’ll need to drink more., because workouts make you sweat and caffeine is a diuretic, which can dehydrate you. For smooth, moisturized skin, Dr. Tremain also suggests keeping showers short (less than five minutes) and using only lukewarm water as hot water can dry your skin out even more.

It may affect your ability to drive safely

Few things are more uncomfortable than being stuck in traffic or on a long drive when you need to use the restroom. Logically, it makes sense to simply not drink water before hitting the road. But new research published in Physiology and Behavior shows that the number of driving errors doubled during a two-hour drive when drivers were dehydrated versus hydrated—an effect similar to driving while drunk (defined by most states as .08% blood alcohol). Since often people purposely avoid drinking prior to a long road trip to prevent bathroom stops, dehydration could increase the risk of traffic accidents.

It makes you tired

A mid-afternoon slump may have more to do with hydration than you think. “When you’re dehydrated your blood pressure drops, heart rate increases, blood flow to the brain slows – all of which can make you tired,” says Luga Podesta, MD, sports medicine specialist at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, Calif. A lack of water to muscles also makes physical tasks feel more difficult and tiring.

It sours your mood

Cranky much? Drink a glass of water and your mood may change. “Neurological effects of dehydration can cause irritability,” says Dr. Podesta. A small study published in the Journal of Nutrition tested mood and concentration in 25 young women who were either given enough fluids to remain properly hydrated, or who became mildly dehydrated by taking diuretics and exercising. The dehydrated women—who were at a level that was just 1% lower than optimal—reported headaches, loss of focus, and irritability.

It can give you the chills

It may seem counterintuitive, but dehydration can bring on chills. “This occurs because your body starts to limit blood flow to the skin,” says Dr. Podesta. In addition, water holds heat, so if you become hydrated it can be more difficult to regulate your body temperature, which can make you become chilled faster, even when you’re not in a cold environment.

It can cause muscle cramps

A lack of water causes less blood circulation, which can make muscles cramp up, says Ray Casciari, MD, medical director of the La Amistad Family Health Center in Orange, Calif. “The body will protect its vital organs, so it shifts fluid away from muscles and anything that’s not vital,” he says. Muscle cramps can be extremely painful, making muscles feel harder than normal to the touch. Changes in sodium and potassium through sweat loss can also contribute to cramping.

It makes you feel dizzy and foggy

Along with muscles, your brain also gets less blood circulation when you’re low on water, which can make you dizzy, says Dr. Casciari. Additionally, mild dehydration may affect your ability to take on mental tasks and cause you to feel foggy headed, according to a study from the British Journal of Nutrition. Interestingly, a study that appeared in the Journal of Nutrition showed greater mood changes in women than in men, both at rest and during exercise.

It can give you a headache

Dehydration can cause headaches in a couple of different ways. “Lack of water affects your body’s serotonin levels, which can give you headaches,” says Dr. Casciari. In addition, small blood vessels in the brain respond quickly to hydration levels (which is also behind hangover headaches), leading to dull aches and even full-blown migraines. Try downing a glass or two of water the next time you have a headache and you may discover it disappears. You could also eat fruit, which contains a high percentage of water, Dr. Casciari suggests.

It constipates you

Your body needs water to keep things moving through your colon. When you’re not getting enough H2O, your body compensates by withdrawing more fluid from stool, making it harder and more difficult to pass. That said, it’s worth noting that drinking more water when you’re already properly hydrated won’t necessarily relieve constipation caused by other factors, like the medications you’re taking, medical conditions, or a lack of fiber in your diet.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: 12 Mental Tricks to Beat Cravings and Lose Weight

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TIME Depression

These are the Most Depressed Workers

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One in five young workers have been depressed, according to the survey.

One in five millennials said they have been depressed on the job, the most of any age group, a new survey found.

That’s compared with 16% of Baby Boomers and 16% of Gen Xers, according to Mashable.

Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, a firm that provides employee drug testing and assistance for problems like gambling, published the survey, Depression and Work: The Impact of Depression on Different Generations of Employees, to coincide with National Mental Health Awareness Month. The study said that depressed employees are more likely to function poorly at work.

There was no word on why millennials, born from 1978 to 1999, are more depressed than other groups. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 while Gen Xers were from 1965 to 1977.

The article continued:

Other impacts of depression in the workplace include absenteeism (missing work), tense work relationships or conflicts, and receiving verbal or written disciplinary action as a result of depression.

“While major depression affects 10% of [American employees], an overwhelming 75% of people with depression don’t receive formal treatment,” Marie Apke, chief operating officer for Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, said in a statement. “Depression costs the economy more than $23 billion annually due to absenteeism. While recent public health initiatives continue to enhance and expand our understanding of the social and economic costs of depression, it’s clear more work is needed to combat depression in the workplace.”

TIME psychology

Sympathy (of a Sort) for Aaron Hernandez

Goodbye to all that: Hernandez being arrested on June 25, 2013—his final day as a free man
George Rizer for The Boston Globe Goodbye to all that: Hernandez being arrested on June 25, 2013—his final day as a free man

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

How should a civilized society punish its monsters?

Aaron Hernandez belongs in hell—literally. If the fiery pit really exists, the former New England Patriot who was just sentenced to life without parole for the murder of a friend, is awaiting trial for two earlier murders and is being sued by man whom he allegedly shot in the eye and left for dead, deserves a confirmed reservation in the lowest circle. What Hernandez and a lot of people like him don’t deserve, however, are the prisons in which they are serving their much-deserved sentences—at least in the conditions under which they will serve them.

The news stories that followed Hernandez’s conviction adhered to schadenfreudean form: watch as the man who used to wear number 81 dons the uniform of inmate W106228; watch as the one-time owner of a 7,100 sq. ft. home is locked inside a cell smaller than a parking space. There’s a certain understandable satisfaction in that: Criminal justice is at least partly about retribution—civil society venting its anger at its most uncivil members. And a killer like Hernandez has a lot of anger coming to him. But when does a lot become too much, especially if civil is the way a society wants to remain?

Just how Hernandez will do his lifetime of time is not yet set; a lot will depend on his behavior, his safety, and how much humbling the administrators of the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center outside of Boston believe he needs. But at best he can expect to remain inside his cell 19 hours out of every 24. Solitary confinement is a possibility—and that will mean 23-hour-a-day lockdown with an hour outside in a small, caged recreation area. He will eat his meals alone in his cell.

If Hernandez does wind up so deep in the correctional hole, he won’t be alone. Roughly 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the U.S. and an estimated 80,000 of them are either in solitary confinement or some other kind of segregated housing. That includes the more than 3,000 inmates on death row, most of whom remain there for years or decades. That once included too the 151 inmates who have been released from death row since 1973 after wrongful convictions were exposed and overturned. In many states, 23 hours in the cell also means no TV, radio, books, music, magazines, or any other distractions.

Conditions like that may be designed to break the spirit, especially in the case of gang members or other violent prisoners, but they also wreck the mind—and fast. As TIME reported in 2007, electroencephalograms show that it takes only a handful of days in isolation for prisoners’ brain waves to shift to a pattern indicating isolation and delirium. As long ago as 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court condemned solitary confinement for its tendency to leave prisoners in a “semi-fatuous condition,” a form of punishment some investigators now call “no-touch torture.”

Suicide rates are disproportionately high among the punitively entombed, as are hallucinations, violent episodes, panic, paranoia, and self-mutilation. And since it is underlying mental disorders that often land inmates in prison in the first place, the time they spend in the hole only exacerbates the problem.

Not only is this inhumane, it also perverts the criminal justice system. When Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber now serving 21 years on terrorism charges, was preparing to stand trial in 2007, his lawyers challenged his fitness to do so, arguing that the three and a half years he had spent in solitary had rendered him unable to assist in his own defense. It was an argument that availed Padilla little, but it provides a credible avenue for other defense attorneys involved in similar cases.

Worse, inmates who are not serving life terms and are eventually released to the streets after long stretches in segregated confinement are likelier to re-offend violently—a combination of rage and lack of social contact destroying whatever self-regulatory faculties they once had. In 2013, Colorado prison director Tom Clements, who had begun reforming the state’s solitary confinement policies, was gunned down by a former prisoner who went straight from solitary confinement to freedom, a sudden trip across dimensions he was clearly not able to handle. His successor, Rick Raemisch, has continued the reforms and even spent nearly 24 hours in an isolation cell as a way of both sampling the experience and demonstrating his commitment to limiting its use.

Pressure for reform is coming as well from prison staffs—who live every day with the dangers that accrue when violent criminals are driven systematically mad. Last year, the Texas prison guards’ union wrote a letter to the state’s department of criminal justice asking that the use solitary confinement be curbed, that even some death row inmates be integrated into the prison population and that such sanity-preserving privileges as TVs, tablets, and the option of a prison job be more widely offered.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the state had already made impressive progress, reducing the solitary confinement population by 25% since 2006. But that still leaves 7,100 inmates—2,400 of whom have diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses or mental disability—locked away alone. A handful of other states including New York, Colorado, and Mississippi have also begun reforming their solitary confinement policies.

Compassion for monsters is not easy to achieve—and the slope gets slippery fast. Hernandez is one thing, but what about Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is still waiting to see if he will be sentenced to death or life? What about Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols or 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui? Your pure evil may be different from my pure evil, so how do we decide? The only thing all of these criminals have in common is that they once had lives, freedom, and, in the case of Hernandez, fame and great wealth too—and they forfeited it all. We can punish them and pen them without forfeiting an important part of ourselves as well.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Addiction

Habitual Gamblers See Patterns Where There Are None, Study Says

Las Vegas Sands deceived a Nevada court in an attempt to stall a lawsuit by the former head of its Macau operations, a state judge ruled on Friday, fining the casino operator and abridging its right to object in a fight over key evidence. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu (CHINA - Tags: BUSINESS CRIME LAW SOCIETY) - RTR386IJ
Siu Chiu—Reuters A croupier sits in front of a gaming table inside a casino on the opening day of Sheraton Macao hotel at Sands Cotai Central in Macau September 20, 2012

"Gamblers are more willing to bet impulsively on perceived illusory patterns," researcher says

Researchers have found gamblers are more prone to find non-existent patterns in completely random sequences — and are more likely to bet on those erroneous perceptions — adding to a large amount of research that suggests pathological gambling is the result of cognitive distortions.

The study, published Wednesday in Springer’s Journal of Gambling Studies, says that all humans fall victim to illusory patterns — if a roulette ball lands on black five turns in a row, for example, it is normal to think that it must surely land on red next. But compulsive gamblers see more such imaginary patterns and are different to recreational gamblers by their increased likelihood to bet on the false trends.

“Our results suggest that gamblers are more willing to bet impulsively on perceived illusory patterns,” stated co-lead author Wolgang Gaissmaier in a press release.

In a laboratory, the team compared the betting habits of 91 habitual gamblers versus 70 people who were not. Participants were shown pictures of two slot machines and had to predict the winner, but the catch was one had a 67% chance of producing a win while the other machine produced a win only 33% of the time. Participants were not explicitly told of the probability difference but the study said it “could be learned from experience via feedback.”

The results showed that gamblers were more likely than non-gamblers to use ‘probability matching’ — or making predictions based on past results.

“They are overly prone to accept random series of events as, in fact, non-random — and non-random enough to be worth betting on,” said Gaissmaier.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Ways Your Commute Is Hurting Your Health

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Long hours in transit can negatively affect your body and mind

The average American commute to work lasts 25 minutes, according to U.S. Census data, but many workers travel far above and beyond that number. In Los Angeles, drivers spend an average of 90 hours a year stuck in traffic alone, and employees in New York City spend an average of 48 minutes a day getting to their jobs, often switching trains or busses along the way.

Commuting is rarely anyone’s favorite time of day, but it can be more than just an inconvenience: All those hours spent in home-work limbo can have physical and mental health implications, as well. Here are five ways your car, train, or bus ride to the office can affect your well-being, plus what to do about it.

It may contribute to weight gain

A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that the farther Texas residents commuted every day, the more likely they were to be overweight. Unsurprisingly, the farthest commuters were also less likely to get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. “It’s not so easy to move or change your job, so if you do have a long commute it’s important that you make a bigger effort to be active during the day,” says lead study author Christine Hoehner, PhD. “Take walking breaks, get up from your desk often, take the stairs, and make it a priority to exercise whenever you do have time.”

If you can, it might also be a good idea to try public transportation: men and women who drove to work weighed about 6.6 and 5.5 pounds more, respectively, than their peers who walked, cycled, or took trains or buses, a 2014 study in The BMJ found.

Read more: 20 Filling Foods That Help You Lose Weight

It’s a pain in the neck—literally

A third of people with commutes of more than 90 minutes say they deal with ongoing neck and back pain, according to a 2010 Gallup poll. While back pain is one of the most common health complaints, only one in four people who commute 10 minutes or less reported pain in the same poll.

The extra time spent sitting slumped forward in the driver’s seat or on the train could contribute to these issues, says Andrew Wolf, exercise physiologist at Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona. But making an effort to sit up straight—with a lumbar support behind your lower back, and your head evenly over your shoulders—can help you reverse bad habits. “It’s a lifestyle choice that requires that you think about it a bit every day,” he says. “Do enough of this and it will become automatic.”

Read more: 15 Exercises for People in Pain

It affects your mood

People who drove, carpooled, or took public transportation to work were less able to enjoy daily activities and had more trouble concentrating compared to walkers or cyclists in a 2014 study from the University of East Anglia. Interestingly, the researchers found that wellbeing scores decreased for car commuters as time spent behind the wheel increased. But for walkers, the opposite held true: Those who traveled farther to work on foot had better mental health scores.

If there’s no getting around public transportation for you, one thing you might try is talking to strangers. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, bus and train commuters reported more positive experiences when they connected with other riders than when they kept to themselves.

Read more: 12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

It stresses you out

People who commute by private car (no matter how long the trip)—or those whose trips lasted longer than 30 minutes by train, bus or on foot—had higher anxiety levels compared to people who made shorter trips, according to a 2014 report from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics.

Hoehner’s research also found that the longer people’s car commutes were, the more likely they were to have elevated blood pressure—even when she controlled for physical activity level. “That finding suggested that there’s something going on independent of the fact that people are less active, potentially something related to stress,” she says. (Other risk factors for hypertension, like lack of sleep, poor diet, and social isolation, could also play a role.)

“One way to combat this could be for employers to allow people to commute at different times of the day, so they’re not spending so much time in traffic,” Hoehner adds. Can’t switch up your schedule? Turn on a soothing playlist or practice slow, deep breathing when you feel yourself tensing up.

Read more: 12 Superfoods for Stress Relief

It exposes you to more pollution

In a 2007 study of Los Angeles residents, up to half of their exposure to harmful air pollution occurred while they traveled in their vehicles. Driving with the windows up, using recirculated air, and driving slower than 20 miles per hour can reduce exposure, say the study authors, but not as much as cutting back on driving time.

Cycling to work increases exposure to pollutants, as well, according to a 2010 Dutch study—but the same research also found that its health benefits of getting your heart rate up on your ride still outweigh its risks by at least nine times.

Read more: 15 Ways Exercise Makes You Look and Feel Younger

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: The Surprising Upside to America’s Worsening Traffic Jams

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TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Mental Health Therapy Through Social Networking Could Soon Be a Reality

While still in the development stage, the peer-to-peer technology had "significant benefits"

An experimental social networking platform intent on helping users calm anxiety and reverse symptoms of depression has received positive feedback.

Panoply is a peer-to-peer platform jointly administered by MIT and Northwestern universities that encourages users to “think more flexibly and objectively about the stressful events and thoughts that upset them,” says a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Researchers found that the network, which is still being studied and has yet to be commercialized, produced “significant benefits, particularly for depressed individuals.”

Panoply works by teaching users a therapeutic tool called cognitive reappraisal, which tries to get people to look at a problematic situation from different perspectives.

When a person is stressed, they write what is causing the problem and their reaction. The “crowd” then responds by a offering a contrasting outlook. Comments are vetted to ensure the original poster is not abused.

The study involved 166 people over a three-week period. Researchers suggested a 25-minute per week minimum interaction to see results.

According to the published paper, the next step is to widen the net and see if the social media platform is as effective over a more diverse audience.

TIME Depression

How Pilots Are Screened for Depression and Suicide

While it’s not clear exactly why Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into a French mountainside, the black box from the cockpit raises questions about whether mental health issues were involved, and how aviation officials identify and monitor the mental health of pilots.

Prosecutor Brice Robin said that the cockpit recordings suggest the lead pilot was locked out of the flight deck after leaving for the restroom, and that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz “voluntarily allowed the aircraft to lose altitude. He had no reason to do this. He had no reason to stop the captain coming back into the cockpit.” As investigators search for a second black box, experts are trying to piece together the reasons why Lubitz acted the way he did. His mental state remains a possible cause.

If the investigation reveals that mental health played a role, it wouldn’t be without precedent. In a 2014 study in the journal Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, researchers looked at 20 years of data for what they called “aircraft assisted suicide.” From 1993-2012, 24 of 7,244 plane crashes were thought to be deliberately caused by a pilot. That’s less than 1% of the total, but it’s still enough to raise questions about the mental health stressors of pilots.

“I really wish that we had some kind of deeper thinking about this issue, because it’s one of the most difficult in aviation medicine,” says Alpo Vuorio, MD, PhD, the study author and an aviation specialist in occupational medicine at the Mehiläinen Airport Health Centre in Finland. He screens pilots and cabin crew of commercial airlines for health issues—including mental health issues—and says he sees any given commercial pilot once a year for a short visit.

Commercial pilots have to pass a physical and mental evaluation every six months (for those over 40) or once a year (for those under 40) in order to be certified to fly a passenger plane. The emphasis, however, is on the physical and less on the mental, mainly because mental health is harder to quantify.

“You somehow try to see if the pilot is well, and it’s not the easiest thing,” Vuorio says. Pilots answer yes-or-no questions about their mental health, Vuorio says, like if they’ve ever tried to attempt suicide or visited a psychiatrist. “You speak yes or no, but it’s up to you, what you tell,” he says. Pilots can visit several different locations for these examinations, he says, and if they don’t occur in house, past data don’t appear on the screen.

And pilots aren’t likely to divulge any potential mental health problems, including signs of depression or anxiety, because that would take them out of the sky. “Pilots aren’t going to tell you anything, any more than a medical doctor would about their mental health,” says Scott Shappell, professor of the Human Factors Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University who is a former pilot and crash scene investigator.

Pilots, like doctors and policemen and others with high-stress jobs, tend to be good at compartmentalizing — walling off difficult or emotional experiences so they don’t interfere with their ability to function day-to-day. Medical examiners who evaluate pilots for their recertification also aren’t always trained in mental health, so they may not recognize subtle signs of conditions such as depression or alcoholism.

According to Dr. William Sledge, medical director of the Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital who has evaluated pilots for the Federal Aviation Administration, about 40% of pilots he saw were for alcohol related problems, and a third for depression or anxiety. Only about half of the latter group reported their problems themselves, however. The other half were referred to Sledge only after incidents required their superiors to intervene.

“The problem is there is no incentive” to report mental health issues, says Shappell. “They know that if they self report, the way the system is designed, it will be a black mark.”

In a statement, the FAA said: “Pilots must disclose all existing physical and psychological conditions and medications or face significant fines of up to $250,000 if they are found to have falsified information.”

In the case of mental health evaluations, pilots are taken off the flight schedule while they are treated or begin antidepressant medications. Until 2010, even these drugs were banned, and pilots required them could no longer fly.

When the U.S. Air Force began requiring annual suicide prevention and awareness training in 1995, including screening for mental illness, the suicide rate plummeted from about 16 suicides per 100,000 members to about 9.

Even for experts, however, judging whether a pilot is suicidal is one of the hardest parts of the job. That’s no surprise, since the struggles of spotting and talking about suicide plague our entire society, says Barbara Van Dahlen, a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and president of Give an Hour, a network of volunteer therapists. “In our society we are so quick to try to make it ok, to say it will pass and to say suck it up,” she says. “We really don’t listen to ourselves and we don’t listen to others very effectively.”

But pilots and others in high-pressure occupations face several unique stressors, she says, like having a physically demanding job and being responsible for other lives. “In a lot of positions of authority and leadership, those people are supposed to be capable and on top of things,” she says. “They don’t have a lot of people to share with and talk to, to be less than perfect and less than OK. That adds to the stress.”

One study of suicides among general aviation pilots—civilians who aren’t leading scheduled commercial flights—published in the journal Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine, looked at 21-years’ worth of general aviation accidents as reported by the National Transportation Safety Board between 1983-2003. During that time, 37 pilots either committed or attempted suicide by aircraft, and nearly all resulted in a fatality. 38% of the pilots had psychiatric problems, 40% of the suicides or attempts were linked to legal troubles, and almost half, 46%, were linked to domestic and social problems. 24% of the cases involved alcohol and 14% involved illicit drugs.

Having ready access to a plane also seemed to be a contributing factor, too; 24% of the crashed planes in the study were used illicitly.

Read next: German Pilots Cast Doubt on Blaming of Co-Pilot for Crash

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TIME Education

Education Does Not Make You a Happier Person

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A new study finds that the chance of happiness is the same, whether you went to college or not

There is no link between your education level and your personal happiness, says a new mental-health research study published by the British Journal of Psychiatry.

According to a press release, researchers from Warwick Medical School were inspired by the strong association between poor education and mental illness and wanted to investigate if the opposite was true: Does being educated lead to happiness?

The team discovered that the odds of happiness were equivalent throughout all levels of educational attainment.

“These findings are quite controversial because we expected to find the socioeconomic factors that are associated with mental illness would also be correlated with mental well being,” said Sarah Stewart-Brown, the lead author on the study. “But that is not the case.”

Researchers defined happiness as a state of high mental well-being in which people “feel good and function well.” They applied this to data from the Health Survey for England, which was administered to 17,030 people in 2010 and 2011.

Stewart-Brown said that her discovery means that socioeconomic factors may not be applicable to programs aimed at boosting mental well-being.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Why Loneliness May Be the Next Big Public-Health Issue

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Living alone is linked with increased chance of mortality

Loneliness kills. That’s the conclusion of a new study by Brigham Young University researchers who say they are sounding the alarm on what could be the next big public-health issue, on par with obesity and substance abuse.

The subjective feeling of loneliness increases risk of death by 26%, according to the new study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Social isolation — or lacking social connection — and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely, respectively increasing mortality risk by 29% and 32%.

“This is something that we need to take seriously for our health,” says Brigham Young University researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an author of the study. “This should become a public-health issue.”

The researchers emphasized the difference between the subjective, self-reported feeling of loneliness and the objective state of being socially isolated. Both are potentially damaging, the study found. People who say they are alone but feel happy are at increased risk of death, as are those who have many social connections but say they are lonely. People who are both objectively isolated and subjectively lonely may be at the greatest risk of death, says Holt-Lunstad, though she notes that more data would be needed to know with certainty.

“If we just tell people to interact with more people, that might solve the social-isolation issue, but it might not solve the loneliness issue,” she said. “I think we need to acknowledge that both of these components are important.”

MORE: You Asked: How Many Friends Do I Need?

Many social scientists say technology and housing trends are increasing the risk of loneliness. More Americans are living alone than ever before, and technology like texting and social media has made it easier to avoid forming substantive relationships in the flesh and blood. Yet research shows that relationships can improve health in a variety of ways, by helping us manage stress, improving the functioning of the immune system and giving meaning to people’s lives.

Holt-Lunstad says that maintaining meaningful and close relationships, as well as a “diverse set of social connections” is key. Policy interventions for loneliness may be more difficult to imagine but could range from encouraging doctors to identify at-risk patients to rethinking the way neighborhoods are designed, Holt-Lunstad says.

“People’s response is oftentimes to say, ‘What are you going to do, tell everybody to give someone a hug?'” she says. “But there are many potential ways in which this could be implemented.”

Read next: 7 Timeless Ways to Be Happy at Any Age

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