Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, issued a dire warning on Tuesday, highlighting the growing problem of loneliness in the country and equating it to the health dangers of smoking up to 12 cigarettes per day. This pervasive social problem is equivalent to a public health emergency and costs the healthcare industry billions of dollars annually.
According to Murthy’s report, the majority of adults in the U.S. have admitted to feeling lonely at some point. He compares this feeling to bodily aches and pains like hunger or thirst, which are signals from our bodies that something essential to our survival is missing.
In an interview, Murthy stated that “numerous Americans are wrestling with this issue, frequently feeling as though they are fighting a private battle.” The purpose of this advisory is to bring attention to a struggle that many people are going through in silence.
Although this announcement seeks to raise awareness of loneliness, it makes no promises regarding federal funding or particular programmes to address the problem.
The report identifies a number of causes for the increase in loneliness. Americans have become less involved with their families, neighbourhood associations, and even their churches over the past few decades. In the last 60 years, the number of households with just one person has also doubled.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which made many people retreat into isolation, has made the situation worse. In 2020, Americans spent just 20 minutes per day, down from an average of 60, with their friends in person.
With a 70% decrease in the amount of time they spend with friends, young adults aged 15 to 24 are suffering the most from this epidemic of loneliness.
The report also emphasises the detrimental effects of loneliness on one’s health, which can nearly triple the risk of dying young. Poor social connections increase the risk of diseases like heart disease and stroke, and loneliness raises the possibility of mental health problems like depression and anxiety as well as dementia.
Dr. Murthy is advocating a team effort to solve this problem, involving businesses, universities, tech firms, non-profits, families, and individuals. He urges people to limit their use of technology while socialising, prioritise face-to-face interaction, and actively participate in local communities.
Social media in particular has played a significant role in the rise in loneliness, according to technology. According to a study cited in the report, people who spend more than two hours per day on social media experience social isolation twice as often as those who spend less than 30 minutes online.
Murthy urged tech firms to put safeguards in place for kids’ social media use and to think about how to make connections with people through technology more effective than less effective. There is truly no substitute for face-to-face interaction, he said in his conclusion.