Surgeon General of the United States DR Vivek Murthy raises the alarm about how social isolation can affect physical health.
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How harmful can loneliness be?
In an 81-page guide entitled Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation, Murthy argues: “The mortality effects of being socially separated are similar to those caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”
He also points out that the “mortality effect” of loneliness “is even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.”
As a result, Murthy says social connections deserve the same priority as other public health crises like addiction.
“Faced with the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity and an obligation to make the same investments in managing social relationships that we have made in tackling tobacco use, obesity and the addiction crisis. This guide from the Surgeon General shows us how to build more connected lives and a more connected society.”
This view is supported by the observation that people with healthy social connections generally tend to “live longer”.
“Evidence from across scientific disciplines converges to the conclusion that socially connected people live longer.”
How can those “fighting in the shadows” address the problem?
Murthy spoke further about his advice during a meeting with AP News. He noted that this was done in an effort to help those “fighting in the shadows.”
“We now know that loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience. It’s like hunger or thirst… Millions of people in America are fighting in the shadows, and that’s not right.”
The US Surgeon General added, “That is why I issued this advisory, to pull back the curtain on a struggle that too many people are witnessing.”
Murthy’s Advisory notes this in support of this stance “Americans seem to become less socially connected over time.”
He points out that the number of single-person households has doubled since 1960, contributing to why “a significant portion of Americans lack adequate social connection.”
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse. However, factors such as increasing use of social media and declining levels of community engagement are also fueling the problem.
“Some examples of harm are technology that crowds out personal engagement, monopolizes our attention, lowers the quality of our interactions, and even lowers our self-esteem.”
After providing an overview of how loneliness can affect everything from cardiovascular health to cognitive function, Murthy points out that governing bodies need to “establish social connections as a research priority.”
As for individuals, Murthy says they need to “understand” the impact of social connections while also being “actively engaged.”[ing] with people from different backgrounds.”
“All of us as individuals, organizations and communities can play a role in increasing and strengthening connection across the country.”
Murthy also emphasizes the importance of building a “culture of connection” as it is “grounded in core values of kindness, respect, service and commitment to one another.”
NEW: Today I published Advice from a Surgeon General on the epidemic of loneliness and isolation facing our country, the devastating impact it is having on our collective health, and the extraordinary healing power of our relationships. https://t.co/P9RnZkLr6G #Connect2Heal 1/8 pic.twitter.com/ZhaSuXTjoi
– dr Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) May 2, 2023