'We must strengthen social infrastructure': How the surgeon general plans to combat loneliness
Thanks to technology, it's much easier to be an introvert in 2023 than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Phone conservations are less common, replaced by text messages and e-mails. Remote work has been on the rise.
But according to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, the United States has a problem that goes beyond ordinary introversion: an epidemic of loneliness.
In an op-ed/essay published by the New York Times on April 30, Murthy explains, "At any moment, about one out of every two Americans is experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. This includes introverts and extroverts, rich and poor, and younger and older Americans. Sometimes, loneliness is set off by the loss of a loved one or a job, a move to a new city, or health or financial difficulties — or a once-in-a-century pandemic."
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Murthy notes that he plans to combat the United States' loneliness epidemic by "proposing a national framework to rebuild social connection and community in America." The U.S. surgeon general considers loneliness a full-blown health crisis, increasing the risk for everything from heart disease to stroke.
"The increased risk of premature death associated with social disconnection is comparable to smoking daily — and may be even greater than the risk associated with obesity," Murthy observes. "Loneliness and isolation hurt whole communities. Social disconnection is associated with reduced productivity in the workplace, worse performance in school, and diminished civic engagement."
Murthy not only identifies the problem in his op-ed/essay — he also lays out some solutions.
The U.S. surgeon general proposes, "First, we must strengthen social infrastructure — the programs, policies, and structures that aid the development of healthy relationships…. Second, we have to renegotiate our relationship with technology, creating space in our lives without our devices so we can be more present with one another."
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Murthy adds, "Finally, we have to take steps in our personal lives to rebuild our connection to one another — and small steps can make a big difference…. It could be spending 15 minutes each day to reach out to people we care about, introducing ourselves to our neighbors, checking on co-workers who may be having a hard time, sitting down with people with different views to get to know and understand them, and seeking opportunities to serve others recognizing that helping people is one of the most powerful antidotes to loneliness."
READ MORE: The plague of social isolation
Read Vivek H. Murthy's full op-ed/essay at this link (subscription required).
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