This week, the US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy presented a plan to fight loneliness in America.
This is not a theoretical thing. Murty has come out of the loneliness closet to tell us that he too has faced and dealt with loneliness, putting himself out there/here as Exhibit A in the epidemic of Americans who are lonely and at risk in all dimensions of the personal. and social health.
The New York Times published by Dr. Regarding the issue, Murti issued a call to action in the Sunday issue, titled: “We have become a lonely nation. It’s time to fix that.”
That was the foreword to this week’s Department of Health and Human Services advisory on “The Healing Effects of Social Connection” for US stakeholders to use to combat isolation and loneliness in America.
The first graph quantifies six data points that together show the current state of loneliness in America: characterized by increased social isolation, decline in involvement with family members, decline in companionship, rapid decline in social engagement with friends, and other declines in social engagement with others.
Simply put. Between 2003 and 2020, the amount of time Americans spent alone increased. Time spent with others has decreased, in some cases, for example, a dramatic drop in time spent with friends.
How socially connected someone is depends on many factors related to structure (such as the number and variety of our relationships and interactions), function (how those relationships serve our needs), and quality (the positive/negative aspects of those relationships). ).
Many factors contribute to social connection or lack thereof; they are listed in the second yellow table, classified by:
- Individual factors such as chronic diseases, mental health and socioeconomic status
- Relationships characterized by structure and quality, family size and empathy
- Community issues such as outdoor space, housing, schools, health care and community organizations; and,
- Society, particularly public policy, norms and values, use of technology, civic engagement and democratic norms, among other issues.
Social connections then influence health in several dimensions. biological (with stress hormones and inflammation affecting gene expression); psychology (in terms of our meaning and purpose, stress, safety, resilience and hope); and our behaviors, the lifestyle choices we make for physical activity and exercise, food and nutrition choices, sleep, tobacco use, and other activities we do every day.
Together, these social connection factors shape our overall health and well-being, with medical outcomes such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes the main risks associated with these processes, warns the surgeon general.
The advisory report proposes six pillars for developing social connections:
- Strengthen social infrastructure in local communities through the built environment and local community programs
- To set a public policy for the connection
- Mobilize the health sector in training health care providers and scaling up public health surveillance and interventions
- Reform digital environments, such as requiring data transparency and supporting connectivity technologies that promote real social wealth
- Deepen our knowledge by investing more in research and expanding public awareness of evidence-based approaches to social connections, and
- Create a culture of communication by expanding conversations in schools, workplaces and among leaders at all levels of society.
There are many stakeholders in our communities who can work on these pillars in different ways. Dr. Murthy points them out, and here’s a list included in the report to help you think about where you play a role here in strengthening social connections in your own networks at home, at work, and in your community.
At the end of his NY Times essay, Dr. Murthy concluded by stating:
“This work will take all of us – schools, workplaces, community organizations, government, health workers, public health professionals, individuals, families and more – working together. And it’s worth it because our need for human connection is like our need for food and water; essential to our survival. The joy I felt when I was reunited with my friends and family is possible for our nation.”
To learn more about this important initiative, listen to Dr. Murthy explains more about the challenge of loneliness and how we can rebuild the infrastructure to combat and improve loneliness…