On May 3, 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published a new advisory raising concern about what he referred to as a new public-health crisis: loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection. He began the report by describing a listening tour of America on which he embarked when he took office.
People began to tell me they felt isolated, invisible, and insignificant. Even when they couldn’t put their finger on the word “lonely,” time and time again, people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, from every corner of the country, would tell me, “I have to shoulder all of life’s burdens by myself,” or “if I disappear tomorrow, no one will even notice.”
He learned in his research that even before the COVID-19 pandemic caused further isolation from family, friends, and co-workers, adults in America were struggling with loneliness. This disconnection affects mental, physical, and societal health. He shockingly compared the harm of isolation to that of daily cigarette smoking stating that limited social connection increases risk of premature death by more than 60 percent. The physical health consequences of poor or insufficient connection include a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease, a 32 percent increased risk of stroke, and a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia for older adults. Evidence shows that increased connection can help reduce the risk of serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, dementia, and depression. Communities where residents are more connected with one another fare better on several measures of population health, community safety, community resilience when natural disasters strike, prosperity, and civic engagement.