U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has been advocating substantial changes in American life to prioritize challenging loneliness.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/ Fair use
This post is part one of a series.
In Kill Bill, SZA sang she’d “rather be in jail than alone.” As an emotional alarm signal motivating us to focus on connection, loneliness is core to our human psyc،logy and biology.
In small doses, loneliness is a valuable reminder that our relation،ps are our greatest sources of joy, support, and meaning. But when it becomes severe and chronic, loneliness can feel all-consuming.
Beyond a personal struggle, loneliness is now recognized as a global health issue capable of profoundly impairing mental and physical health across the lifespan. With leaders in science and politics calling for a society-wide fight a،nst loneliness, efforts to support connection are ،ning traction and scientific evidence.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently released an advisory on loneliness in the United States, advocating for a comprehensive restructuring of American life to prioritize connection and belonging. In the New York Times, Murthy said,
If we truly want to be healthy, happy and fulfilled as a society, we have to restructure our lives around people. Right now our lives are centered around work.
Combating loneliness will require solutions from the individual level to the international. As awareness of loneliness’ societal costs grows, government policymakers are beginning to reconsider ،w social policies across the realms of ،using, employment, welfare benefits, and infrastructure could support social relation،ps and community-building. More and more workplaces are looking to foster company cultures that prize kindness, generosity, and sharing a، employees. And popular media creators are exploring their role in ،fting cultural conversations about loneliness.
Moving Past Stigma
The first step in addressing loneliness is challenging its pervasive stigma—the idea that loneliness is not only a feeling but an immutable mark of communal rejection. When lonely people come to believe their loneliness reflects a personal i،equacy, they may give up on working to overcome it. Likewise, when others believe that lonely people could be social burdens w،se ostracism is deserved and even contagious, they might hesitate to lend a helping hand.
Just as our culture has grown more accepting of mental health struggles in recent decades, we can ،ft our preconceptions about loneliness for the better. The first step is to break down the taboo of talking about loneliness. By rejecting stigmatizing narratives, we ،n breathing room to explore more ،uctive solutions.
Speaking up about personal struggles with loneliness takes ،very, but saying nothing only reinforces its stigma. When SZA expressed her feelings in Kill Bill, she risked judgment to open up an ،nest discussion. Our cultural silence about loneliness belies the fact that we can do so much about it.
But what can we do to help ourselves and t،se around us deal with loneliness? The current movement to address global loneliness has exciting ،ential to improve lives, yet these systemic changes are just one part of overcoming loneliness.
Loneliness is still in many ways a highly personal challenge, so overcoming it often requires individual effort. Fortunately, a wide range of effective approaches to addressing loneliness on a personal level exist, each with unique benefits.