The Loneliness Epidemic | Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Social Isolation

The Loneliness Epidemic | Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Social Isolation


[ZDoggMD] For in healthcare in
particular, I think it hits
a core with us. That
loneliness, social isolation,
this feeling of being
detached and disconnected.
We have a hugely high suicide rate.
We have a huge rate of burnout.
And, and how many people
really understand us?
How many of us marry doctors?
– Mhm.
– Or nurses. Because no one
else seems to understand us.
And is that because we
just haven’t codified how
we connect and our
institutions haven’t helped us
do this. And you say that
companies maybe the future
to help us do this.
What are your thoughts on this? I mean,
I thought it was fascinating.
[Dr. Vivek Murthy] Well, you know I think
loneliness is an incredibly
important issue now. I
mean, people think hey we’re
incredibly connected by technology.
Everyone’s on Facebook.
People are connected
via Twitter.
– I’m sorry, I can’t hear
you. I’m gonna look at
my comments right now.
(laughing)
Right?
– Yeah but you know, we
have so many means of
connecting through
technology, and I think there
has been an assumption
sometimes that those
connections can substitute
for offline connections.
– Right.
– And the bottom line is
they can’t. If you look at
the data what you see is
that loneliness is actually
been increasing at a time
when technology to connect
has also been increasing.
– With the so-called iGen.
This younger generation
that’s coming into their teens
now. We did a show on the disconnection.
They have incredibly high
rates of depression, anxiety,
suicide- but they’re having sex later.
They’re drinking alcohol less.
All these things that you and
I- our parents would have been
like, (puts on accent)
“Don’t, I’m so happy you’re
not doing anything, right.”
(laughing)
But you’re at home, on the device.
– Yeah.
– So, so. Please. I’ll let
you finish your thought.
I interrupted you.
– Yeah so the thing about
loneliness is that we’ve-
There a couple things
that have been problematic
in addition to the fact
that it’s been growing.
Number one is we haven’t
really understood how impactful
it is on our health.
But we know that when you
look at the data, that there
is actually a strong
association that you see between
people who are lonely and
actually mortality rates.
So it turns out that the
lifespan of people who are
lonely tends to be shorter.
And not shorter by a couple
of days or a couple of weeks.
It tends to be shorter on
the same order that smoking
shortens your lifespan.
In fact, even greater than
the reduction in lifespan
that you see in obesity.
So, there is something happening
here but there’s also a
clear correlation that you
see between loneliness and
anxiety and depression and dementia.
And you can really ask the question:
Is this correlation? Is it causation?
What’s actually going on?
– What’s going on, yeah.
– Here. And I think that’s
where we need to do more
in depth research in
understanding loneliness.
If you delve into the biology
of loneliness there’s a
reason to believe that there
are causative mechanisms
at work.
– Mhm.
– And if you look historically,
you know, we did evolve
to be social beings.
You know, thousands of years
ago if you had a network
of trusted people around
you, you were more likely to
have a stable food supply.
You were more likely to be
protected from predators
at night.
– Mhm.
– And over thousands of
years that need for social
connection- trusted social
connection- became baked into
our nervous systems.
– Yeah.
– Now this doesn’t mean
that we’re all extroverts.
– Right.
– Absolutely not.
– Not at all, yeah.
– But contrary, there are
many people- myself included-
who tend toward the introvert side.
You know, of the
introvert-extrovert scale.
But all of us, whether we’re
introverts or extroverts,
need some degree of
trusted social connection.
We may not need a thousand friends, but we
might need just one.
– Right.
– And this is the other point
is that loneliness is not
dictated by the number
of friends you have.
You know, you could have
thousands of people you
consider friends.
– I have six hundred and
fifty thousand friends.
(laughing)
Okay, buddy.
And believe me I’m the
loneliest person on Earth, so.
(laughing)
– Well that’s why I’m here
is to hangout with you.
– Thank you, thank you,
I just need one introvert
to hang out with, right.
– Yeah, but you know one
of the reasons I think that
loneliness is also hard to
talk about- in addition to
the fact that we don’t
recognize the incredible
impact that it has on
health and on productivity-
is that there’s actually
a stigma around loneliness
as well.
If you tell somebody you are lonely,
what that means…
– Loser.
– Some people interpret
it as you’re a loser.
– Right, yeah.
– Some people interpret
it that you’re an outcast.
What it is essentially
saying is that I’m not worthy
of being loved.
– Ah.
– That’s what it’s saying.
And I say this from a very
personal place because as a child
I was very lonely. When I
was in elementary school
in particular I was very close
to my Mom and Dad, still am.
And I was very closer
with my sister, still am.
I always knew that they were there for me.
Their love was unconditional
and I knew that.
But outside of that family
I didn’t have many friends
in school because I was very
shy and it was hard for me
to kind of reach out.
And I felt lonely.
The thing is, I have not
to this day told my parents
about this.
Because I felt ashamed.
I felt that that meant that
there was something wrong
with me.
– Mm.
– There are many people that
feel like that. And I want
people to know that if you
are lonely, you are certainly
not the only one.
There are many people out
there who are feeling lonely.
And if you aren’t feeling
lonely, there are likely
people around you who are.
And this is where I think we
all have to think about the
role that we could play
in addressing loneliness.
Again it has impacts on
our health, impacts on our
productivity in the workplace,
it impacts educational
performances in schools.
But here’s the thing:
You don’t need a medical
degree or a nursing degree
to address loneliness. What
you need is a willingness to
listen. You need a heart
full of compassion.
A willingness to give and receive love.
There are basic human
tenants that all of us have.
And so the antidote to
loneliness actually lies
within each of us.
– You said something that
I feel you on every level.
I remember being incredibly
lonely in elementary school.
You know and you know, when
you have immigrant parents
it’s exactly that.
You don’t go to them and say, “I’m lonely”
You just say, “Oh I’m fine!”
You play your Ataris, you do that thing.
And it actually took my
years to get to the sense
where I was more than
superficially connected.
And to this day I only
really have a handful of
really deep friends that
unfortunately are disparate
geographically, but when we
get together it’s instant
the reconnection.
– Mm.
– It’s true. You don’t
need- and your family-
you don’t need a lot more
but you need some basic
level of stability and
love and someone that you
can trust unconditionally
in that kind of thing.
And there was something else you said, um
in the article.
One of the antidotes to
loneliness is you go as
the lonely person and
you help somebody else.
So you’re at work and you
support somebody, or you
go out of your way to help somebody.
That in itself can form
a connection that can
ameliorate the loneliness.
– Yeah, this is one of the
counterintuitive things about
loneliness. Loneliness is
actually a stress state.
And when you’re stressed
you tend to turn inward.
– For sure.
– And so the instinct that
people who are chronically
lonely have is to actually
isolate themselves
even further.
But if you can push yourself
a bit to reach out and
actually help someone
else, that actually is a
mutually reaffirming experience.
Not only helps the other person
and allows them to see that
there are others who care
for them, and allows them to
feel value.
But it also reengages you
with another person in a
meaningful way and reaffirms
to you that you have
value to give.
– Mhm.
– To others, so. Helping others
is very powerful antidote
to loneliness.
The other thing that’s
really important though is
protecting quality time
with family and friends.
– Mhm.
– Now, we live in a culture
where work has seeped into
our evenings and our weekends
and our vacation time.
– What time is it, Tom?
(laughing)
– It’s work time. It’s work o’clock.
(laughing)
– It’s work o’clock!
– Case in point. But we also
have had devices purveyed
every aspect of our life.
(laughter)
Many…
(laughter)
– You shut your mouth, Vivek Murthy.
Former 19th US Surgeon General.
You don’t tell me about my phone!
– Well here’s the thing.
It’s okay to use your phone
to some extent but I think
if we ask ourselves honestly
the question that,
Is our phone too prevalent in our life?
Is it distracting us from conversations?
– Mhm.
– With people that we really
wanna be present with.
For many of us the answer is yes.
And the answer has been yes for me too.
– Mhm.
– You know, I came to
realize that I was um
bringing my phone to the
dining table. You know,
and checking messages like
when I was dining with
loved ones.
– Did Alice yell at you?
Because my wife yells at me constantly.
– Well she reminds me. In her
gentle and thoughtful way,
she often does.
That’s not how we want to live our life.
You know there was a moment-
just to be very open with you-
when we were um putting our son to bed.
And you know, sometimes he
likes Alice to feed him.
Alice is my wife.
And sometimes he likes me to feed him.
And one day when he
wanted her to feed him,
she was feeding him and I was
just kind of sitting there
watching them. And I
just almost unconsciously
just took out my phone and
I was checking my email
’cause I was just sitting there.
And she put up her hand
for for me and said,
“Do you really need to do
that now, or do you just
want to be fully present for his bedtime?”
And I was like you’re absolutely right.
You know, like this is sacred time.
And so I think it’s important
for us to draw boundaries
in our life for where we
are focused entirely on the
people that we want to engage with.
Where we take technology
out of the room or we put
our phones away.
Um, even… You might think
to yourself- this is where
phones can be really insidious-
you might just put your
phone five feet away from
you on a dining table.
Like when you’re having
a meal with a friend.
You know, don’t worry I’m
fully focused. But part of
your mind is looking to see
if that phone lights up.
If it does light up or if it
buzzes, you’re thinking hm
who texted me?
(laughing)
– Get out of my head, Vivek
Murthy! Get out of my head.
That’s exactly what I do.
– It’s what all of us do.
And so that’s why I think
creating a really dedicated
space- even if it’s ten
minutes in a day- where
you are fully present with
somebody. This is really
important to building those
meaningful relationships
and a part of addressing
the larger crisis we have with loneliness.

10 thoughts on “The Loneliness Epidemic | Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Social Isolation

  • "Mr. Lonely"

    Lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely

    I have nobody for my own

    I'm so lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely

    Wish I had someone to call on the phone

    I'm a soldier, a lonely soldier

    Away from home through no wish of my own

    That's why I'm lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely

    I wish that I could go back home

    Letters, never a letter

    I get no letters in the mail

    I've been forgotten, yeah, forgotten

    Oh, how I wonder how is it I failed

    Now I'm a soldier, a lonely soldier

    Away from home through no wish of my own

    That's why I'm lonely, I'm Mr. Lonely

    I wish that I could go back home

  • I left my job in America and returned to India to live in my ancestral village. Here it is like the whole village is a family. Internet is still slow in these parts of the country , we still gather around the village fire every night . I know I have to move on soon but its just a different sense of security

  • Therapy, therapy, all day m-f-ing therapy!
    Reading "Feeling Good" by David M. Burns MD right now, and understanding how depression is so rampant (myself being severely depressed for years, without realizing why I was the way I was), I feel like that if humanity manages to eradicate depression with the same success as we eradicated smallpox, that we just might live in a world of all the Heavenly things every religion has promised, but failed to deliver.

  • Loneliness should not drive people to reconnect with TOXIC people, just to not be alone!

    Loneliness + self-reflection + self-education + therapy = drive towards creating healthy relationships built upon true virtues!

    And true VIRTUE creates nothing but real, true LOVE!
    Imagine a world in which people strove towards that. What an amazing world that would be!

  • Humans are social creatures. We need each other. The lesson of Alexander Supertramp: Happiness is not real unless it is shared.

  • Loneliness isn't always something that an individual can control or do much about. I just celebrated my 70th birthday. I received a text message from 2 of my 3 children … the youngest took me out for lunch. I live alone with 3 dogs and 5 Budgies. There are times I just walk around a local home improvement store, just to be around people. No one wants to hire someone 70 years old. They don't tell you, because that would be illegal, but it happens. I live in a small city (more like a big town), on a very limited income, so I don't have television service and there's few places to go, other than a bar. There's little in a small southern city. I have YouTube. Until someone actually walks in lonely shoes, they seem to have plenty to say, but don't really understand. Some people talk about family … what if, like me, someone only has a a few children who work 12 hour days and live in another area or state. You just hang in there. You keep busy. To give up is the worse thing one can do!

  • My husband died nine months ago to the very hour. The day he died my children wouldn’t come home with me. I was told I needed to learn to be alone. In May I fell and broke a toe, my foot was badly damaged, bruised and swollen. Still bruised and swollen, you can see it on my channel. I had 270 videos of he & I doing things, they are on private now. The orthopedist looked at my foot and said I was in danger of getting a blister fracture. He said I must stay off the foot and keep it elevated till the swelling & bruising subsided. So here I sat for three months with nothing but “learning to be alone”. My spine is deteriorating and causes substantial pain. I would love to have a job, volunteer, church. I hope I shake myself and make myself get out again.

    I was 19 when I was married. My whole life revolved around family, church and work. Then suddenly, one day, poof it was all gone. So my only companion is loneliness and loneliness is not a good companion at all.

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