The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has declared loneliness as a public health epidemic, with risks as deadly as smoking a dozen cigarettes daily. In an 81-page report, Murthy revealed that about half of U.S. adults have experienced loneliness, which has significant consequences on both physical and mental health and costs the health industry billions of dollars annually.

The Impact of COVID-19 and Social Media

The loneliness crisis has been steadily worsening over the years, with Americans becoming less engaged with their communities and families. However, the COVID-19 pandemic intensified the problem by forcing people to isolate themselves from their loved ones. The report found that Americans spent approximately 20 minutes a day in person with friends in 2020, a significant decrease from 60 minutes daily nearly two decades earlier.

Technology, particularly social media, has contributed to the growing problem of loneliness. According to a study cited in the report, people who used social media for two hours or more daily were more than twice as likely to report feeling socially isolated than those who used such apps for less than 30 minutes a day.

Addressing the Loneliness Epidemic

To combat the loneliness epidemic, the Surgeon General calls for various sectors, including workplaces, schools, technology companies, community organizations, parents, and individuals, to make changes that will increase connectedness. Murthy advises people to join community groups, engage in in-person interactions, and limit their use of technology.

Employers are encouraged to reconsider their remote work policies, while health systems should provide training for doctors to recognize the health risks of loneliness. Technology companies, especially those managing social media platforms, are urged to implement protections for children regarding their online behaviour.