U.S. Surgeon General Announces National Plan to Fight ‘Loneliness Epidemic’

In HealthDay News
by Healthday

Loneliness can impact sleep, inflammation, and immune system in younger adults, and can lead to pain, depression, and shorter life spans in seniors

By Physician’s Briefing Staff HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 2, 2023 (HealthDay News) — U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., has declared war on what he calls a “loneliness epidemic” in the United States. Murthy announced a “National Strategy to Advance Social Connection” to address this “epidemic of loneliness and isolation.”

“Loneliness I think of as a great masquerader. It can look like different things,” Murthy told CNN on Monday. “Some people, they become withdrawn. Others become irritable and angry. … I think the time you get concerned is when you start experiencing a feeling of loneliness for prolonged periods of time. If you feel lonely, you pick up the phone and call a friend, and then it goes away, or you get in the car and go see a family member, that’s OK. That’s loneliness acting like hunger or thirst, a signal our body sends us when we need something for survival. It’s when it persists that it becomes harmful.”

The Surgeon General’s framework for social connectedness has six pillars that together rely on efforts by public policymakers, communities, tech companies, public health officials, health care systems, and researchers. It would strengthen social infrastructure in communities. The first pillar would rely on increasing connections through volunteer organizations or religious groups, while also focusing on libraries and green spaces, public transit, and education.

The framework would also urge governments and institutions to create more “pro-connection public policies” and reduce connection disparities. Its third pillar would educate health care providers about the physical and mental benefits of social connection. This would include tracking disconnection and providing local solutions.

Reforming digital environments is another goal. “Technology can also distract us and occupy our mental bandwidth, make us feel worse about ourselves and our relationships, and diminish our ability to connect with others. Some technology fans the flames of marginalization and discrimination, bullying, and other forms of severe social negativity,” according to the advisory.

Loneliness and isolation can impact sleep, inflammation, and the immune system in younger adults, while being linked to pain, depression, and shorter life spans in seniors. Loneliness may have connections to numerous health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, addiction, suicidality, and dementia, Murthy said.

“Given the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity, and 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 added.

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