Loneliness: Global Health Threat

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared loneliness a “global health threat”. They have started new programs to help establish social connection as a global health priority.

“Even in our hyper-connected world, many people struggle with loneliness. The problem is so pervasive that in November, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared loneliness a “global health threat” and launched the WHO Commission on Connection to combat it. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who is helping lead the commission, said the impact of loneliness on mortality is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes per day.”

Loneliness does not just impact the elderly. Young people are not immune to loneliness. Social isolation can affect anyone and doesn’t discriminate on age, gender, or geographic location.

Social connection is needed. A likely underestimated figure, states 5 to 15% of adolescents experience loneliness.

With the help of the internet and social media we are as connected as we have ever been; so why is it that we have loneliness as a global health threat at an unprecedented point in our virtual “connectedness”? COVID is partly to blame. It did change the way the world functions in many ways. But the type of social connection we are in need of is potentially achievable. Social media is not real life. It is a curated reality, but it does not mean people cannot have meaningful online social interaction. It is part of our culture. It is not enough to just be connected online. People need to form genuine and authentic relationships.

Social connection is not a one size fits all, so what helps each individual find more connection varies. The CDC shared 5 ways to improve social connection.

  • Establish and Maintain Social Connections: Relationships require maintenance. Time and attention need to be devoted to develop and maintain relationships. Regular contact helps build social connectedness. Those who have the capacity could create a larger and more diverse social network that has more different types of people in your life. It can potentially provide a greater variety of resources, information, and opportunities with life ‘s many challenges. This is a more communal way of thinking, neighbors helping neighbors, because we all need that support.
  • Consider the support you give, receive, and have available to you: Even though it can be hard to ask for help sometimes, reaching out to sources of support to help you when you are experiencing a tough time is needed. Providing support to others in your life can give much needed support and can feel good to be able to support a friend in need. It’s always important to check with your friends before venting your problem, worry, or feeling. Consent from them is important, and vice versa. Checking in with yourself to make sure you have the space mentally and emotionally to be there for your friend if they are in a time of need is an important way to approach support in relationships.
  • Strengthen the quality of social connections: focus on building strong, high quality, and meaningful connections. Find ways in your life where you can be supportive of others, grateful to others, and responsive and present with others. It takes intention and energy to give and to receive.
  • Address barriers to social connection: Take care of your health. Technology can distract you from engaging with people, so utilize it intentionally.
  • Talk with a health care provider about concerns like loneliness, stress, and social isolation: Life changes such as health issues, retirement, divorce, or losing a loved one can lead to disconnection.

The question becomes how to bridge the gap and create stronger connections. In order to actually connect with others, we can’t approach every relationship or interaction guarded and unwilling to share ourselves. Living through a pandemic where we became guarded, understandably, and even fearful, due to safety concerns, in our interactions with others. Being willing to be vulnerable in social connection gives us the opportunity to create a deeper connection and potentially a stronger one. When someone is vulnerable, you are given the gift of witnessing a part of this human that they don’t always show someone else. You can build meaningful connections with others if you can be vulnerable with one another. Be supportive of the people in your life that you care for. Learning how to do this with others can be hard. We do not get classes on how-to’s of social connectedness. If you resonate with feeling lonely or disconnected and want to talk to someone, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed mental health counselors.



Arielle Teets