Americans, even many Christians, are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. The U.S. Surgeon General calls loneliness a public health threat on par with smoking or obesity.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said loneliness increases the risk of physical ailments such as heart disease, dementia and stroke, as well as depression, anxiety and suicide. He added that the possibility of premature death because of loneliness could equal that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can pose a greater health risk than living with obesity.
“This is an issue so many people struggle with in the shadows, because they feel ashamed,” he said. “It was my wife Alice who stepped in and said, ‘Hey I’m worried about you because you’re not reaching out to people. You’re not socializing with your friends.’”
Murthy said about half of adults are struggling with loneliness and even greater numbers of children are. That can be surprising given the fact that many young people are frequently connecting with their peers online. However, Murthy said technology serves as a poor substitute for in-person connection. Mental health experts, such as psychiatrist Daniel Amen, believe social media can prove to be addicting and therefore predict the problem will only get worse.
“I actually believe we’re on the beginning of a tidal wave of brain and mental health problems in young people, and it’s because we’re more disconnected than ever before, disconnected from our own families because when people are together their faces are buried in their gadgets,” he said.
Amen said loneliness was a serious problem before the pandemic, but the COVID-19-related shutdowns made loneliness “exponentially worse.” He points out that while the pandemic is over, many people continue to remain isolated from those with whom they interacted before the pandemic. Therefore, he recommends minimizing screen time while maximizing in-person interactions.
“So it’s back to church,” he said. “Go back to church. Get involved. Get involved with groups. We have to go back. And really, no better place to solve it than the church.”
Amen also believes more public resources should be used to hire and train mental health professionals so they are more accessible and affordable to the people who need them.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice