Advisories

“Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory” (2023)

Key Takeaways:

  • The loneliness epidemic is hitting young people, ages 15 to 24, especially hard
  • Approximately half of U.S. adults report experiencing loneliness, with some of the highest rates among young adults
  • Loneliness increases the risk of premature death by nearly 30%
  • In 2018, only 16% of Americans reported that they felt very attached to their local community
  • These technologies are pervasive in our lives. Nearly all teens and adults under 65 (96-99%), and 75% of adults 65 and over, say that they use the internet. Americans spend an average of six hours per day on digital media. One-in-three U.S. adults 18 and over report that they are online “almost constantly”
  • In a U.S.-based study, participants who reported using social media for more than two hours a day had about double the odds of reporting increased perceptions of social isolation compared to those who used social media for less than 30 minutes per day
  • 50% of adults in the U.S. reported being lonely in recent years

LiveMore ScreenLess’  Summary

The U.S. Surgeon General is calling on workplaces, schools, technology companies, community organizations, parents, and others to make changes that will boost the country’s connectedness. He advises people to join community groups and put down their phones when they’re catching up with friends; employers to think carefully about their remote work policies; and health systems to provide training for doctors to recognize the health risks of loneliness.

Technology has rapidly exacerbated the loneliness problem, with one study cited in the report finding that 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 were on such apps for less than 30 minutes a day.

Social connections influence biological processes, which affect physical as well as mental health. Loneliness and social isolation among children and adolescents increase the risk of depression and anxiety. Adults across the globe rate their social relationships, particularly with family and close friends, as the most important source of meaning, purpose, and motivation in their lives. Higher levels of social connectedness suggest better community outcomes, ranging from population health to community safety, resilience, prosperity, and representative government.

School administrators and leaders, boards of education, boards of trustees, teachers, parent teacher associations, state departments of education, and online learning platforms can all play a role:

  • Develop a strategic plan for school connectedness and social skills with benchmark tracking
  • Use evidenced-based practices leveraging elements of the CDC Framework: Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child
  • Build social connection into health curricula, including up-to-date, age-appropriate information on the consequences of social connection on physical and mental health, key risk and protective factors, and strategies for increasing social connection
  •  Create a supportive school environment that fosters belonging through equitable classroom management, mentoring, and peer support groups

What Tech Can Do:

  • Reform Digital Environments 
  • Require data transparency 
  • Establish and implement safety standards 
  •  Support development of pro-connection technologies

What Parents and Caregivers Can Do: 

  •  Invest in relationships by recognizing that strong, secure attachments are protective and a good foundation for other healthy relationships
  • Model healthy social connection, spending time together, staying in regular contact with extended family, friends, and neighbors, and participating in community events
  •  Help children and adolescents develop strong, safe, and stable relationships with supportive adults like grandparents, teachers, coaches, counselors, and mentors
  •  Encourage healthy social connection with peers by supporting individual friendships, as well as participation in structured activities such as volunteering, sports, community activities, and mentorship programs
  •  Be attentive to how young people spend their time online. Delay the age at which children join social media platforms
  • Identify and aim to reduce behaviors and experiences that may increase the risk for social disconnection, including bullying and excessive or harmful social media use.
  •  Talk to your children about social connection regularly to understand if they are struggling with loneliness or isolation, to de-stigmatize talking about these feelings, and to create space for children to share their perspective and needs

 

Topics: Loneliness , Mental Health , Social/Emotional Learning

Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation 2023: Surgeon General’s Report. U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community, 2023.