Loneliness is officially a public health epidemic.
A new report from Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, found that loneliness is as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. Murthy has issued an advisory warning that the loneliness epidemic is hitting the U.S. hard, affecting millions of people’s lives.
Murthy’s report comes on the heels of research that revealed half of U.S. adults say they’ve experienced loneliness, and young people are feeling it the most. The reports found that young people aged 15 to 24 spend 70 percent less time with friends face-to-face than previous generations.
“We now know that loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience. It’s like hunger or thirst. It’s a feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing,” Murthy said. “Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and that’s not right. That’s why I issued this advisory to pull back the curtain on a struggle that too many people are experiencing.”
The loneliness epidemic has been growing for decades, but the rise in technology has rapidly escalated the problem. Social media, in particular, is driving the increase in loneliness, with people who use such platforms for two hours or more daily more than twice as likely to report feeling socially isolated than those who spend less than 30 minutes a day.
It also doesn’t help that Americans have become less engaged with church, community organizations and even their own family members in recent decades. Research shows that those who attend community-driven events feel more connected with one another. The crisis deepened tremendously during COVID-19 spread, with schools and workplaces shutting their doors and sending millions of Americans to isolate at home away from relatives or friends.
“There’s really no substitute for in-person interaction,” Murthy said. “As we shifted to use technology more and more for our communication, we lost out on a lot of that in-person interaction. How do we design technology that strengthens our relationships as opposed to weaken them?”