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  • Writer's pictureReuben Berger

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warning about loneliness

"U. S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, warns that loneliness is like hunger, a signal we're lacking something for survival." This is the headline of an article in the Guardian written by Katherine Rowland.

The following is what she wrote in the article that you can read below...

Love, he says, is the foundation of good policies and needs to inform the nation’s public health agenda.

At first blush, this message sounds almost utopian – but Murthy’s own idealism is fortified by evidence. As he recounts in his 2020 book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, it was in the course of talking to Americans across the country that he realized the extent to which people were suffering from sadness, withdrawal and isolation.

“Loneliness,” he wrote, “ran like a dark thread through many of the more obvious issues that people brought to my attention.”

As surgeon general, he has described loneliness as an epidemic on par with tobacco use and obesity, and is at the helm of a new World Health Organization commission to address the hazards of social isolation. Not only does it undermine physical and mental health, but, in his diagnosis, it underpins many of our more pernicious ills, including violence, addiction and extremism. The antidote, he says, is human connection.

Murthy said, "It was back in 2015, when I was Surgeon General the first time and travelling around the country, that I realized this is far more than an issue that was affecting my life, or my patients’ lives. This was a national problem, a national epidemic. And that’s what inspired me to dig into some of the data around it.

Loneliness, while pervasive, can be hard to articulate. Going back to those clinical encounters and the conversations you were having around the country, how did you diagnose this collective condition? What sorts of feelings were individuals expressing?

It’s interesting you ask that, because very few of them use the term lonely. They would use other words to describe it. Many of them would say, I feel like I’m just invisible. They would say, if I disappear tomorrow, nobody would even notice, no one would even care. Many of them felt like nobody really knew them for who they were.

On college campuses a lot of students said, I’m surrounded by students, but nobody really knows me and I don’t feel like I can be myself. People didn’t feel like there were folks that they could truly be open, vulnerable and honest with.

So even though they didn’t use the word, they were describing exactly what loneliness feels like.

One of the things that has happened in recent years is that our capacity for dialogue has broken down. In some ways, we have forgotten how to talk to one another openly, honestly and respectfully.

The notion that social media is going to be the solution to our problems with dialogue is misguided and hasn’t been borne out by lived experience.

What we need instead is to focus on high-quality interactions, where we approach engagement with one another with a fundamental sense of respect. We need to recognize that we may not have the same point of view as somebody else, we may not see the world in the same way or have the same life experiences, but every person is deserving of respect as a human being; that’s the one essential premise.

We just came off of this college campus tour. In talking to students across America, many of them say that they don’t see a lot of dialogue taking place in-person around them. The dining halls on college campuses, which used to be one of the loudest places I remember from when I was in college, have become much quieter. People are listening to something in their earbuds. They’re looking at their phones, they’re on their laptops. And young people are telling us that when conversations become uncomfortable or hard, it’s much easier to just pull out your phone.

Fulfillment comes from people and purpose. It comes from the relationships you have and from doing things in your life that give you a sense of meaning.

Read full article here much of which is an interview format between the writer and Murthy.

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