U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared loneliness as an epidemic in the country on Tuesday, outlining a series of actions that Americans can take to address the growing issue.
“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives,” Murthy said in a statement.
Murthy issued an advisory laying out the consequence of loneliness, which can include a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease, a 32 percent increased risk of stroke, a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia for older adults and even increase the risk of a premature death by more than 60 percent. The advisory – which is about 80 pages long – includes six different pillars to repair social connection in the United States
Strengthening social infrastructure, like building more parks and libraries, and and enacting pro-connection policies, like having accessible public transportation or paid family leave, are two of Murthy’s pillars that he says will help overcome loneliness. He also said that reforming digital environments is a pillar of his plan, saying that individuals must be aware of how online environments may be negatively impacting their social connections.
The other pillars of his plan include mobilizing the health care sector, deepening knowledge of loneliness and social connections and cultivating a culture of connections. The advisory said everyday practices, like acting kind and respectful toward each other, can help strengthen social connections.
“Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders,” Murthy said in the statement. “Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.”
Murthy’s advisory comes just days after he published an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday that said he was planning on releasing a framework on loneliness. He also emphasized in the op-ed that social connections must be a “top public health priority” in the country.