A high school teacher recently posted that she occasionally gave students a few minutes to chat at the end of class. The results were surprising. Many students didn’t begin a conversation but instead immediately reached for their phones or computers, preferring the “connection” of strangers on social media to relating to the real people around them. Sadly, this phenomenon is also true for adults, and the result has been growing isolation and loneliness among people of all ages – loneliness that negatively affects both mental and physical health.
Recently the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, released an advisory warning about the dangers of loneliness, stating that it is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, causing a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia for older adults.
On a recent episode of All Things Considered, NPR correspondent Juana Summers and her colleagues shared the six foundational pillars cited in the advisory for improving social relations and mitigating isolation and loneliness in our communities:
- Strengthening social infrastructure, which includes things like parks and libraries as well as public programs.
- Enacting pro-connection public policies at every level of government, including things like accessible public transportation or paid family leave.
- Mobilizing the health sector to address the medical needs that stem from loneliness.
- Reforming digital environments to “critically evaluate our relationship with technology.”
- Deepening our knowledge through more robust research into the issue.
- Cultivating a culture of connection.
In DuPage County we are fortunate to have many of these recommendations in place, but by raising awareness about the effects of social media, being intentional about knowing our neighbors, particularly the elderly, and seeking offline interactions, we can reintroduce and grow the culture of connection in our communities.