Recently, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a study on how loneliness is sweeping the country and disrupting the lives of many.
This study is part of the Biden administration’s plans to address mental health across the country, and Dr. Murthy calls loneliness an epidemic that needs to be especially handled.
“In recent years, about one-in-two adults in America reported experiencing loneliness,” Murthy said. “And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic cut off so many of us from friends, loved ones, and support systems.”
Research has shown that loneliness and isolation are incredibly harmful to people’s health. In young adults, it’s been linked to sleep problems, inflammation, and immune changes, as well as higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, self-harm, and dementia. In teens, when social connections are especially important to build development, loneliness can be detrimental.
“Loneliness I think of as a great masquerader. It can look like different things,” Murthy told CNN. “Some people, they become withdrawn. Others become irritable and angry. … I think the time you get concerned is when you start experiencing a feeling of loneliness for prolonged periods of time.”
In teens, when social connections are especially important to build development, loneliness can be detrimental.
Social connection is important, Murthy emphasizes. He says it’s as necessary to humans as food or shelter is. “Given the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity, and the addiction crisis.”
Dr. Murthy outlined ways to increase social connection and address the issues caused by loneliness. The outline is divided into six different sections.
The first calls to improve community building, such as volunteer organizations or religious groups. Increasing access to public spaces like parks and libraries will increase people’s abilities to socialize and connect with each other. Making sure this access is equitable for everyone is especially important, Dr. Murthy says.
To increase this access comes the second stage. This stage urges governments to create policies that will help connection and make sure all communities have the ability to reduce isolation. The third stage adds to this, which says that health care providers like doctors and therapists should increase how they educate people on the benefits of connection.
The fourth pillar discusses the use of technology in our daily lives. It calls for more security in social media, creating platforms that support the wellbeing of users, rather than environments that promote harm, discrimination, and bullying.
The fifth stage calls for all of these elements — communities, governments, healthcare providers, tech companies — to work together. It says that they should all track how what they do improves or reduces social connection, and compare all the data and research. This will make their efforts more effective and help create an understanding of the forces behind social connection,
“Given the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity, and the addiction crisis.” — Dr. Vivek Murthy
“Given the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity, and the addiction crisis.”
The last pillar calls for the public to help. It urges Americans to “cultivate values of kindness, respect, service, and commitment to one another.” It asks us to speak up and use our voices to change our social world for the better.
Murthy says, “We are called to build a movement to mend the social fabric of our nation. It will take all of us – individuals and families, schools and workplaces, health care and public health systems, technology companies, governments, faith organizations, and communities – working together to destigmatize loneliness and change our cultural and policy response to it.”
All these efforts are hoped to reduce isolation in Americans and the harm that comes with it. You especially can help — start a club at your school, join a volunteer center, even use your voice to urge local governments to help. Encouraging friends and family to do the same is important as well. No matter how small, it’s an important step in the direction of defeating loneliness.
By Caileigh Winslade, Senior, ChiArts
Instagram: @fairytwist / Twitter: @silverrebi
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