Guest blog by: Suma Durga Bommasani, College of Computing graduate student
Humans are social creatures as we are wired to interact and connect with others. However, over time we have become more isolated. Loneliness has become a serious public health concern that affects people of all ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds in the United States. A new advisory report by the United States Surgeon General titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation” has shed light on the severity of this problem, showing that loneliness has a higher incidence rate than common medical conditions like smoking, obesity, and diabetes. Even though social isolation and loneliness have a considerable impact on individual health and society, only 20% of people consider it to be a serious problem.
As described in the report, about 1 in 2 adults experience loneliness. Loneliness has been linked to a higher risk of dementia, as well as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and mental health conditions. With a higher-than-average proportion of older individuals, this issue is of particular concern for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan region. Additionally, social isolation and loneliness among children and adolescents, which accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, increases the risk of anxiety and depression.
Experts highlight the critical need to implement strategies to build social interactions and boost health, safety, and well-being, as social ties are a fundamental human need. To address this serious issue, a national strategy with six main pillars has been presented, with the goal of building an integrated approach to improving community and social connectivity.
Individuals can prioritize their personal well-being by staying in touch with a varied network of people, limiting their use of social media, obtaining professional guidance when necessary, and expressing gratitude to others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “How Right Now” platform provides some helpful resources for people currently experiencing loneliness. Parents and caregivers can positively affect the lives of children and adolescents by actively engaging with them, highlighting the value of social connections, and monitoring online activity. Getting assistance from mental health and medical professionals can also help with the behavioral alterations connected to loneliness. Educators can build in social connection content to health curricula and help to foster a sense of belonging in the classroom. Local organizations and businesses also play an important role in establishing social connection by introducing programs that increase social contact and bring community members together.
We can all contribute to strengthening social connections. This basic toolkit from the National Institutes of Health has some great examples for improving your social health. Even something as simple as reaching out to a friend, family member, or neighbor to say hi or to invite them for a short walk can help. By coming together to address social disconnection and loneliness, we can work towards building healthier and stronger communities.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Our Epidemic of Loneliness Social Isolation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“How Right Now” platform
National Institutes of Health
Social Wellness Toolkit
Michigan Tech University Center for Student Mental Health
The Center for Student Mental Health and Well-being provides a wide array of resources for students to ensure mental and physical well-being.
American Psychological Association (APA)
APA provides resources on workplace well-being, stress management, and mental health
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
AARP provides various resources for older adults, including information on social connection, loneliness, and community engagement
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)
AACAP offers resources on children’s mental health, including loneliness and social isolation https://www.aacap.org
Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress (UPCAP)
UPCAP offers classes and workshops across the U.P. for disease prevention and management, and general wellness