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Loneliness | Contributes to Depression and Poor Health

  • Loneliness is a silent crisis, a growing health epidemic, a threat to our health and well-being.
There is a rising number of lonely people in America. According to a Harvard Business Review, 40% of U.S. adults report feeling lonely.  This is in part due to the record numbers of people who move away from their communities and home, and record numbers of people who live alone today; but, it is more due to technology.  

"Technology can help or hurt, it's simply a tool; but for too many people, technology has led to substituting online connections for offline in-person connections, and ultimately I think that has been harmful," Murthy said.

People have met hundreds of friends on Facebook, but few people who really know them.  Talking to someone on Facebook is not equivalent to sitting down with a friend and talking to them face-to-face.  As a society, we have built stronger Wi-Fi connections over time, but our personal connections have deteriorated. 

For many people, admitting that you are lonely is essentially the equivalent to admitting that you are not worthy of being loved.  That is really what underlies this stigma of feeling lonely.  

The culture around masculinity may actually be putting men at a higher risk of loneliness than women, Murthy said.  "In our culture, we think that masculinity is tied to being self-sufficient and not expressing your emotions, and certainly not admitting to feelings of loneliness. But many men do feel lonely – especially after they get married or have children, where their social circles narrow," he said.  Women are much better at keeping their connections in life than men are.

Adding to concerns about this "epidemic" is the toll it may take on our health. "It turns out that loneliness is associated with a reduction in your lifespan, that is as severe as the reduction in lifespan you see with smoking 15 cigarettes a day," he said.  It is greater than the impact of mortality on obesity.  Other health risks include dementia, depression, anxiety and cardiovascular disease.  Loneliness actually places us in a stress state.  

"We evolved to be social creatures, and thousands of years ago, if you were connected to other people, you were more likely to have a stable food supply and to be protected from predators.  So, when you are disconnected, you are in a stress state.  When that happens chronically, it can have a profound impact on your health."

As a way to help combat this trend, Murthy calls on businesses to make fostering social connections a strategic priority.  Murthy says workplaces should consider providing dedicated time in structured settings for people to get to know one another.  The quality of time that people have together is what matters.  Giving people time to get together during walks and happy hours can help to some extent; but sometimes people feel they are just taking time away from family or the work they have to do, and they end up just talking about work, because that is what they have in common.  Instead, provide dedicated time in structured settings where people truly get to know and understand each other, and learn...

"What are their values? What drives people?  What are their experiences and inspirations, and what are their lives outside of work?  People hunger to be known authentically, and far too many people feel invisible right now, and that is at the crux of our loneliness epidemic right now," he said. 

"If you are feeling lonely, know that you are not the only one.  There are many people out there who are feeling lonely.  In addition, if you are feeling lonely, that does not mean that there is something fundamentally wrong with you, and that you are not worthy of a friendship or being loved.  And finally, if you are not feeling lonely, it is important to recognize that there are very likely people around you who are.  That's why it is so important for us to reach out to them. 

"The fundamental thing is this:  We have for years thought about ourselves as an individualistic society that champions individual achievement; but what the data around loneliness tells us, more and more, is that we are truly interdependent creatures, and that ultimately, we need each other."
  (Source:  Vivek H. Murthy, “Former Surgeon General on how loneliness could reduce lifespan,” CBS News, October 19, 2017; and Harvard Business Review article) 
What You Can Do
  • Serve others.  Service to others is a great anti-depressant.  Those who serve others are happy, healthier and more prosperous than those who do not serve, according to research.  Click the Volunteer tab at the top of this website.  

  • Make new friends.  Click on the Things to Do tab at the top of this website.  Invite a friend to go along, or make new friends while you are participating in an activity.