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Understanding the Loneliness Epidemic

By Niku Sedarat


United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recently announced loneliness as a public health crisis. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness has been impacting individuals of all ages and backgrounds for decades. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, almost half of American adults experienced measurable levels of loneliness—even before this global pandemic. Recently, in January of 2023, 34% of people self-reported feelings of loneliness. Strikingly, research conducted by Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education revealed that 43% of adolescents reported increased feelings of loneliness since the pandemic. 

While loneliness has impacted individuals for decades, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to significant increases in this challenge. With the shift to online school and remote work, many individuals felt a disruption in their ability to cultivate and maintain meaningful social connections. 

Social media has also been accredited as a significant contributor to the loneliness epidemic. In an interview with USA Today, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy reveals that “you can be surrounded by lots of people and you can have lots of followers or connections on social media, but not necessarily feel like you’ve got somebody who knows your or shows up for you in a crisis.” In other words, while social media may be used as a way of finding new communities, it does not account for the social connection that is imperative to the human experience. 

Loneliness, often mistaken for isolation, is the subjective feeling of distress or discomfort that arises when there is a gap between an individual desire for social relationships and their actual, current state of relationships. On the other hand, isolation refers to the state of being physically distant, separated, or detached from others. In other words, one can be surrounded by a room full of people yet still feel instrumentally lonely. As such, loneliness is extremely subjective and varies greatly from one person to another. The most sociable person you know may feel immensely lonely, which is indicative of how difficult it can be to recognize this challenge in our loved ones and ultimately, reach out.

Loneliness is believed to take place in three different domains: social, existential, and psychological. Socially, one may feel lonely due to systemic exclusion based on race, social identity, gender, age, or disability. Existential loneliness refers to feeling a sense of disconnectedness from oneself and psychological loneliness may arise out of lacking people to talk to, seek support from, or trust. 

Irrespective of how you may be experiencing loneliness, this epidemic poses a rising challenge that can cause significant risks to both physical and emotional well-being. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, lacking social connection can cause a 29% increased risk of heart disease, 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of dementia for elderly individuals. Strikingly, loneliness can also increase the risk of premature death by more than 60%

Yet, beyond the undeniable physical consequences of loneliness, lies a sea of mental health consequences. Loneliness as a whole increases the risk of immediate and future onset of anxiety and depression. It is also strongly correlated to a variety of mental illnesses. High levels of loneliness can also trigger an influx in stress hormones, making an individual more prone to adopting unhealthy lifestyles through a poor diet, smoking, and substance use which all yield profound psychological and physical consequences. 

Time and time again, what seems to be the remedy for loneliness is the idea of having people in our lives who “really care.” In other words, social connections that are truly deep and meaningful. It means checking in on our friends even if everything seems to be going just fine. It means coming together as a community and cultivating opportunities to put our devices down and dedicate our full attention to one another. And, last but definitely not least, it means recognizing that even when we’re feeling the most lonely, the sentiment of “you’re not alone” rings with great resonance. If you’re feeling lonely, know that many people are in the same boat as you and hoping to seek connection…from someone just like you. 

Free, community-based resources are a great way to start! Below find information about free support groups you can join to find a community of support: 

Support Group Registration link by DBSA California: DBSA California Support Groups Sign Up (



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