Dr. Vivek M. Murthy is the US Surgeon General. As he traveled the country, he heard that people felt isolated, insignificant, and invisible. That led him, in May 2023 to declare loneliness an epidemic. “Loneliness is like hunger,” he said “a signal we are lacking something for survival.” Being socially disconnected is associated with a marked increase in depression and anxiety, as well as in heart disease, dementia and premature death

Close to 33% of adults in the US experience loneliness on a regular basis. The same is true worldwide (big data). 61% of younger people say they are chronically lonely. (Cross River Therapy)

Jeremy Nobel is the author of Project UnLonely: Healing our Crisis of Disconnection.

Laine Perfas is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School.

I read a transcript of a conversation they had about loneliness.

Nobel has identified three types of loneliness. Psychological loneliness is wanting someone to confide in – the feeling that someone has “got your back.” Societal loneliness is feeling like you are being excluded because of some characteristic. This could be because of gender, race, disability, or anything else that sets you apart. Finally, spiritual loneliness is wondering if you connect to the bigger narrative of humanity? Does your life have purpose and meaning? It’s useful to identify what kind of loneliness you are feeling so you can better understand how to meet it.

People who are  ill tend to be lonely. Symptoms may keep them isolated. Few people understand their experience. Life is difficult. The same is true of people living with disability and aging. You can be in more than one of what Nobel calls “territories of loneliness.”

Loneliness increases risk of early death by 30%. Loneliness increases risk of heart attack or stroke or death from either by 30 percent, dementia by 40 percent, diabetes by 50 percent.

We are hungry for connection. What should we do?

First, says Nobel, it’s important to understand that it’s not your fault. Let go of any feelings of guilt or shame. Feeling lonely sometimes is part of the human condition. Be kind to yourself.

Then, take the risk to reach out. Nobel points out that the arts are a vehicle for exploring and demonstrating loneliness and connection. By telling our stories, we can be seen for who we truly are.

Ami Rokach is a psychologist and author of Loneliness, love, and all that’s Between. Stephanie Cacioppo, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, who specializes in the study of loneliness and social cognition. They have many ideas for how to feel more connected. They include:

  • Write down happy memories of connectedness. Remembering loving times with friends and family can be enough to overcome negative feelings.
  • Smile. If you feel embarrassed about it, close your eyes. Smiling kicks off neurotransmitters that will help you feel better.
  • Take note of all the things for which you are grateful. That will turn your mind toward positivity.
  • Volunteer. It will fulfill your desire to feel needed and help you focus on others.
  • Turn your loneliness into solitude by spending time doing something you love.

Loneliness is distressingly common and painful. The good news is that we know what to do about it. We need to get past our fear and reach out.

In your journal:

  • Write a happy memory of connectedness.
  • List things for which you are grateful.
  • List solo activities you enjoy. Do one.
  • Write a poem or song. (example   I think it’s gonna rain today.)