May 2, 2023 -- The United States is facing a public health crisis of loneliness, isolation and lack of social connection, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, said Tuesday in issuing an advisory report.
“In recent years, about one-in-two adults in America reported experiencing loneliness,” Murthy says in the advisory. “And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic cut off so many of us from friends, loved ones, and support systems.”
A lack of social connection raises the risk of premature death to more than 60%, Murthy said in a statement. “Put simply, this social disconnection increases the risk for premature death to the same levels as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”
Lack of social connection contributes higher risk of heart disease, stroke, anxiety, depression and dementia, the report says. Loneliness can increase risk of early death by 26% and social isolation by 29%, says a meta-analysis cited in the advisory. Loneliness also adds to motivations for harming oneself.
“Given the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity, an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity and the addiction crisis,” Murthy said.
The advisory calls on better messaging about social connection and health. It suggests changes such as developing parks and libraries that enhance connection; policy changes for family leave and accessible public transportation; and research into addressing the issue.
CNN reported that the advisory is part of the Biden administration’s efforts to address mental health, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
“People often incorrectly assume that disclosing painful truths or emotions with a trusted other will be a turn-off or perceived as a burden. Quite the opposite typically occurs,” Justin Baker, the clinical director of the Suicide and Trauma Reduction Initiative (STRIVE), told ABC News.
“Instead of feeling like a burden, sharing a common struggle typically brings people together and strengthens the existing relationship,” Baker said.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, substance abuse or other mental health crises, call or text 988. Trained crisis counselors are available for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.