A look into the surgeon general’s efforts against loneliness epidemic

Dec 21, 2023, 10:20 AM | Updated: Apr 2, 2024, 8:45 am

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Jon Batiste speak on stage during MTV's Mental Health Is ...

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 27: (L-R) U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Jon Batiste speak on stage during MTV's Mental Health Is Health and The U.S. Surgeon General's Connection Tour at Barclays Center on November 27, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for MTV)

(Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for MTV)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a general health warning addressing loneliness in May 2023. Murthy’s warning called increasing loneliness rates in the U.S. a “public health crisis,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services

According to the surgeon general, loneliness can cause several mental and physical health problems. They include depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. 

The surgeon general’s advisory said that “lacking social connection is as dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day.” 

Fighting loneliness

Following the advisory, Murthy began a nationwide tour called the “We Are Made to Connect” tour. His travels have taken him to colleges across the country. The surgeon general’s goal is to encourage social connection. 

Erin Schumaker, a reporter for Politico, said the goal of the tour is to “talk with young people about loneliness and social isolation.” 

The tour is meant to raise awareness of the negative impacts loneliness can have. Additionally, it is meant to inspire young people to combat loneliness with social connections.

According to Schumaker, research found young people see the highest levels of loneliness. 

“The Surgeon General really wanted to reach out to them personally,” Schumaker said. 

Schumaker said she attended the Brooklyn, New York event. The events typically begin with a “fireside chat,” complete with a guest. 

Brooklyn’s guest, according to Schumaker, was musician Jon Batiste. The musician chatted with Murthy about mental health. 

“In Texas, I think [the guest] was Matthew McConaughey,” said Schumaker. 

“I’m greeted by these dancing unicorns outside of the stadium handing out prescriptions for social connection. Limitless refills, I think it said, or something to that effect,” Schumaker recounted. 

The events end with the Murthy asking attendees to take out their phones. Then, the surgeon general instructs them to send a message to someone they are grateful for. 

“Then once they’ve done so, [they’re instructed] to hold up the phone and turn on the flashlight,” Schumaker said. She compared the atmosphere to that of a concert. 

A tool for connection 

During the scene of glowing cell phone flashlights, the surgeon general instructs attendees to continue socially connecting for the next five days. Additionally, he tells his audience that “they are going to create a ripple effect of social connection,” according to Schumaker. 

“Part of what he said he’s trying to do with that cell phone exercise, [on the] tour is to show them that technology can be a tool, it’s not necessarily good or bad,” said Schumaker. 

Technology and social media can be used to foster connection. It also can be used to create more isolation. 

“If you use it with intentionality, that can make it… a tool for connection,” said Schumaker. 

More from Inside Sources: The role of authenticity and vulnerability in starting conversations

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A look into the surgeon general’s efforts against loneliness epidemic