A new report from the US surgeon general is highlighting the recent surge in loneliness among Americans, which states that being lonely is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
In the report released Tuesday, Dr. Vivek Murthy declared that loneliness has become the latest public health epidemic.
“About half of U.S. adults say they’ve experienced loneliness,” Dr. Murthy wrote in the 81-page report. “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.”
In an Associated Press interview, he added that “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.”
Data shows that Americans have become less engaged with places of worship, community activities and visits to family and friends. Single households in the country have also doubled over the last 60 years.
The crisis was only exasperated by COVID-19, when schools and workplaces were forced to study and work from home, further isolating Americans from others.
People discarded their friends during the pandemic and cut time with family, the report has found. Additionally, Americans now spend about 20 minutes a day in person with friends as opposed to 60 minutes daily two decades earlier.
“The loneliness epidemic is hitting young people, ages 15 to 24, especially hard. The age group reported a 70% drop in time spent with friends during the same period,” Associated Press has reported, adding that “Loneliness increases the risk of premature death by nearly 30%, with the report revealing that those with poor social relationships also had a greater risk of stroke and heart disease. Isolation also elevates a person’s likelihood of experiencing depression, anxiety and dementia, according to the research. Murthy did not provide any data that illustrates how many people die directly from loneliness or isolation.”
To fix this, Dr. Murthy suggests workplaces, schools and community organizations try and make a return to life before COVID. He further says people should limit phone time while with family and friends and reconsider work-from-home policies.
“There’s really no substitute for in-person interaction,” Dr. 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?”