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Sunday, January 28, 2024

Americans are lonely and it’s killing them. How the US can combat this new epidemic.

Adrianna Rodriguez
USA Today
Originally posted 24 Dec 23

America has a new epidemic. It can’t be treated using traditional therapies even though it has debilitating and even deadly consequences.

The problem seeping in at the corners of our communities is loneliness and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is hoping to generate awareness and offer remedies before it claims more lives.

“Most of us probably think of loneliness as just a bad feeling,” he told USA TODAY. “It turns out that loneliness has far greater implications for our health when we struggle with a sense of social disconnection, being lonely or isolated.”

Loneliness is detrimental to mental and physical health, experts say, leading to an increased risk of heart disease, dementia, stroke and premature death. As researchers track record levels of self-reported loneliness, public health leaders are banding together to develop a public health framework to address the epidemic.

“The world is becoming lonelier and there’s some very, very worrisome consequences,” said Dr. Jeremy Nobel, founder of The Foundation for Art and Healing, a nonprofit that addresses public health concerns through creative expression, which launched an initiative called Project Unlonely.

“It won’t just make you miserable, but loneliness will kill you," he said. "And that’s why it’s a crisis."

Key points:
  • Loneliness Crisis: America faces a growing epidemic of loneliness impacting mental and physical health, leading to increased risks of heart disease, dementia, stroke, and premature death.
  • Diverse and Widespread: Loneliness affects various demographics, from young adults to older populations, and isn't limited by social media interaction.
  • Health Risks: The Surgeon General reports loneliness raises risk of premature death by 26%, equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes daily. Heart disease and stroke risks also increase significantly.
  • Causes: Numerous factors contribute, including societal changes, technology overuse, remote work, and lack of genuine social connection.
  • Solutions: Individual actions like reaching out and mindful interactions help. Additionally, public health strategies like "social prescribing" and community initiatives are crucial.
  • Collective Effort Needed: Overcoming the epidemic requires collaboration across sectors, fostering stronger social connections within communities and digital spaces.