Why is being alone more dangerous than doing drugs or smoking?
US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said on Tuesday that if authorities don’t deal with the problem of loneliness in the same way they deal with obesity and smoking, it could hurt people’s health much more than if they smoked or did drugs. He urged authorities to treat loneliness in the same way they deal with obesity and smoking.
The warning came in an advisory that also told US citizens to talk to more people and open up to them because people are losing social ties because they don’t have as many people to talk to.
He said, “Right now, millions of people are telling us through their stories and statistics that their social connection tank is empty.”
The Surgeon General, who also wrote about his own experience with loneliness, said, “In the end, this has to be a public health priority on the same level as smoking, drug use disorders, obesity, and other things we know have a big effect on people’s lives.”
Murthy also said that the pandemic has brought the disruption of social cohesion to the forefront. However, the advisory pointed out that it has been getting worse since the 1970s for a number of reasons, including changes in social norms, built settings, and, of course, technology.
In a survey from the 1970s that was mentioned in the advice, 45% of Americans said they could trust other Americans.
By 2016, the number had dropped to 30%. Between 2003 and 2020, Americans spent 24 hours alone every month.
By 10 hours a month, less time was spent with friends in person. Teenagers talked to each other online, but they talked to each other less in person.
Home delivery services also limit the contact with the daily limit.
Murthy said, “It’s a normal part of being human, and in many ways, being lonely is like being hungry or thirsty. It’s a sign from our bodies that we’re missing something we need to stay alive.”
But not bringing it up could lead to more help from hospitals for people with dementia and a vicious cycle of anxiety and sadness.
Closures and lockdowns that kept people at home too long hurt people’s mental health and made it harder for them to connect with other people.
Murthy also said that policymakers had to “make tough decisions with little information” when the virus was killing sometimes thousands of people every day.
He also said, “Newer ideas like working from home aren’t always isolating either. They often give people more time to spend with their kids or older relatives.”
Even so, he said that looking at the results of some measures could teach us something.
Murthy said, “I think it’s important to understand the kinds of consequences that can come from the choices we make, and I think we often think about financial effects. But I don’t think we often enough think about how our choices affect other people.”
He said that being alone can affect people in other ways, like making them less involved in their neighbourhoods. “So, when you look at it that way, you start to see that social connection is part of what keeps us going and helps us be whole people in our lives and communities.”
He wrote a piece telling his story, and after that, a lot of people wrote to him about their own problems.
“I meet a lot of people from all over the country and even the world who want to be real. They want to be honest with others and want others to be honest with them, but it can be scary to do so.”
“We have to realise that part of that is being able to show up as ourselves, taking a bit of a risk when sharing with other people, but also listening to others, asking them how they’re doing, and actually waiting for an answer.”