Americans Face an Epidemic of Loneliness

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Need to Know from SafeWise
  • According to a new report from the U.S. Surgeon General, almost half of adults in the country have experienced loneliness.
  • People have become more isolated due to various circumstances, including social media and the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Surgeon General’s report includes a framework to advance social connection in the U.S., with governments, communities, and individuals coming together.
  • Social isolation increases the risk of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and premature death.

A new report from the U.S. Surgeon General finds that humans become more isolated over time, which is a widespread health issue in the U.S. Social connection, the report says, is “vital to community health and success” but it will require individuals, governments, and community organizations coming together to fight the loneliness and social isolation epidemic Americans face.

“I’m worried about this from a public health perspective because it turns out that being socially disconnected has real consequences for our health,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told NPR’s All Things Considered. “It increases our risk of depression, anxiety and suicide, but it also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke and premature death.”

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One of the main factors contributing to this epidemic of loneliness is the “grinding inequality” and the “crushing of people’s sense of solidarity and connection to one another,” Eric Liu, co-founder of Citizen University, told NPR.

Trust in other people is falling, which reduces our social networks. According to the Surgeon General’s report, social engagement and connection have fallen significantly in the last 20 years. These numbers include family engagement, social friend engagement, and companionship.

This lack of solidarity and distrust of people is also thought to have fueled recent shootings.

What can we do to reduce social isolation?

According to the Surgeon General’s report, we can do a dozen things as individuals to reduce our social isolation and loneliness.

The first and most important thing is recognizing social connection and then investing time in creating and nurturing relationships.

Focusing during conversations, participating in social and community groups, and actively engaging with people can help people feel connected and together. It’s essential to seek opportunities and ways to help others because that fosters a connection beyond ourselves. Of course, understanding what connection means to you ensures that you are helpfully connecting with others.

The report notes that excessive social media use, lots of time in front of screens, and unhealthy relationships can lead to feelings of disconnection. When possible, people should try to reduce these activities.

Finally, seek help and talk to your healthcare provider about social changes. Healthcare providers can provide recommendations and see warning signs for other health problems if you’re open with them about your feelings. There is also the new 988 crisis line that is available 24/7.

The report also notes six pillars for a national strategy, including improving social infrastructure, like libraries and parks, and enacting policies in the government for paid family leave and accessible public transit, among other things. The Surgeon General recommends utilizing the health sector to address medical needs and cultivating research into the issue.

Digital environments—including social media, which is already under siege by lawmakers for targeting children—need to be checked, and an overall culture of connection needs to be established in the U.S.

Most of all, Murtha recommends reaching out to people and checking in. Working together and promoting community, connection, and awareness can help Americans tackle the loneliness and isolation epidemic.

Alex Kerai
Written by
Alex Kerai
Alex began writing for student newspapers and has managed to turn that into a career. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he wrote about small businesses for Biz2Credit and Business.org. Before that, he spent time in communications for higher education institutions, created marketing materials for nonprofits, and worked for entertainment companies in Los Angeles. Today, he reports on emerging consumer trends and his work can be seen on The Penny Hoarder, SafeWise, Business.org, Reviews.org, Move.org, WhistleOut.com, CableTV.com, HighSpeedInternet.com, and SatelliteInternet.com. When he's not writing, Alex watches too much TV, plays guitar, reads and writes fiction, and goes on nature walks.

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