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National health crisis touches all aspects of social connection

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Tuesday, December 26, 2023 - 9:05am
Updated: Monday, January 1, 2024 - 9:07am
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In May, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory regarding a national health crisis of loneliness and isolation.

Recently, a panel of experts discussed the mental, physical and societal impacts of the problem, which predates COVID-19 by decades but worsened during the pandemic.

“This goes beyond loneliness; all aspects of social connection have been linked to both health and longevity, and so our attention needs to be paid to all aspects of this,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, director of the Social Connection and Health Lab at Brigham Young University.

Humans are social creatures; not meeting those needs can shorten lifespans and worsen risks of everything from cardiovascular disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes to depression, anxiety, suicide and dementia.

While loneliness is subjective (hence, feeling lonely in a crowd) isolation means a near-complete lack of social contact.

Holt-Lunstad said we can’t afford to ignore either condition.

“Both loneliness specifically and the larger issue of lacking social connection are important,” she said.

One large national study found social isolation more strongly predicts physical health, while loneliness is tied more closely to mental health outcomes.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, there is help. Contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 (en Español, llame al 988, prensa 2; for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, dial 711 then 988). You may also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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