Vivek Murthy, MD is the surgeon-general of the United States. It is Dr. Vivek H. Murthy's job as 'the nation’s doctor' to protect and improve health and safety for the American people.
In his latest Opinion piece 'We Have Become A Lonely Nation,' Dr. Murthy writes that we have become a lonely nation. In his recent Opinion essay 'It's Time To Fix That', Dr. Murthy discusses how social isolation and lonely are serious health issues that Americans face. He proposes a national framework for rebuilding social connection and community to address these issues.
Is it surprising that the top doctor in the country sees loneliness as an issue of health? Do you think it's an urgent issue that needs to addressed?
Dr. Murthy wrote:
One of my patients once told me an unusual story. He worked in the food business for many years, earning a modest income and living a humble life. He won the lottery. His life changed overnight. He left his job and moved to a large home in a gated neighborhood.
As he sat opposite me, he said, "Winning the lotto was the worst thing that has ever happened to me." This once social, vivacious man was now wealthy but lonely. He no longer knew any of his neighbors, and he had lost contact with his old co-workers. Soon, he developed diabetes and high blood pressure.
In 2017, I was struggling with loneliness and I remembered his story. My first stint as Surgeon General had just ended. I found myself suddenly cut off from my colleagues, with whom I spent the majority of my waking time. It would not have been as bad if I hadn't made a crucial mistake: I neglected my friends during my tenure because I convinced myself that I needed to concentrate on my work and couldn't do both.
I would often check the news or respond to messages I received in my inbox, even when I was with people I loved. After my job ended I felt embarrassed to reach out and reconnect with friends that I had neglected. I felt increasingly isolated and lonely, and I thought I was the only person who felt this way. Loneliness, like depression with which it is often associated, can erode self-esteem and your sense of identity. This is what happened to me.
About one in two Americans are experiencing loneliness at any given time. It includes rich and poor people, younger and older Americans, introverts and extraverts. A loss of a spouse or job, moving to a different city, health or financial problems, or even a pandemic can cause loneliness.
Sometimes, it is difficult to understand how it began but it just exists. It's clear that almost everyone has experienced it. Its invisibility makes it even more insidious. We must acknowledge the loneliness and social isolation millions of people are suffering and their grave impact on our mental, physical and collective health.
The framework proposed by Dr. Murthy includes the following recommendations
We must first strengthen the social infrastructure - the programs, policies and structures that support the development of healthy relationships.
We need to redefine our relationship with the technology in our lives, and create space without devices, so that we can be present with each other.
We must take small steps to rebuild our relationship with one another.
Read the essay in full and then let us know:
In his essay Dr. Murthy describes how he has struggled with loneliness. Have you ever experienced loneliness? When did you first realize that you were lonely, if so? What would you say caused or contributed to it?
Do you agree that Dr. Murthy claims people don't talk about these issues enough? Do you find it hard to discuss feeling disconnected or lonely?
What information surprised you in the essay? What statistic or idea stands out to you? Before reading the essay, for example, were you familiar with the health risks of social isolation? Would you have thought that one out of two people is feeling lonely at all times?
What do you make of Dr. Murthy’s suggestions to alleviate loneliness? What do you think, if anything, has the greatest potential for being effective in the country? Which could help you?
What would you say if asked to give your advice on how to solve this problem? What helps you when you feel isolated from others?
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