The Loneliness Epidemic and What You Can Do About It

loneliness

I recently attended a foundation banquet where I had the pleasure of hearing guest speaker Vivek Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States.  Dr. Murthy is a very engaging and funny public speaker and he spoke of healthy living, as one would expect.  That’s not all he spoke of though.  The main theme of his talk was not about obesity, working out, high blood pressure, or addiction.  The main theme of his talk was about his knowledge, perception, and experiences with the national loneliness epidemic.

What he had to say about loneliness really touched my heart.  Dr. Murthy spoke of a loneliness epidemic that is currently threatening the United States.  For years I suffered from feelings of loneliness and I could relate to the experiences Dr. Murthy shared during his address.

Murthy associates loneliness and weak social connections with a reduction in life-span similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and a reduction in life span even greater than that associated with obesity.  Studies show that loneliness can also be associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety.  Dr. Murthy states, loneliness at work decreases performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making.

“During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.”

Here are some stats regarding loneliness collected by Cigna and Ipsos from a survey of 20,000 Americans over the age of 18:

  • 46% felt alone either sometimes or always
  • 47% felt left out
  • 27% rarely or never felt as though there are people who really understand them.
  • 43% felt that their relationships are not meaningful
  • 43% felt isolated from others
  • 20% rarely or never felt close to people
  • 18% didn’t feel like there are people they can talk to
  • Only53% have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.

As I mentioned before, I have struggled with feelings of loneliness in my life.  This did not change for me once I had kids, or once I started a job.  These feelings of loneliness didn’t subside in my life until I found my niche, so-to-speak.  This included finding and committing to a church family that helps me to feel understood and to feel like there is a place I belong, no matter what.  This included finding meaningful ways to connect with others where I knew my talents and personality could add value and make a difference.

I enjoy being successful and I want to help others so they can enjoy success as well, this is my goal in this life. When I consistently lose myself in the act of serving others I am happier, I feel included, I feel accomplished, like I have a purpose, and I feel content knowing I am providing for and making a difference in the lives of others.

This Forbes article touches on the thought process that increased loneliness is both a systems problem, and an individual problem.  I think it’s an interesting perspective and in either case will take a group of people being courageous enough to take action to make changes in their own lives, in their own communities, and eventually within their world.  In what ways have you been courageous and acted to eliminate loneliness in your world?  Please share your actions below!

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