People in conversation

Surgeon General: Loneliness Epidemic Requires Investments in Social Connection

Image: Surgeon General's quote

Americans face an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation, according to an advisory by United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy.

The health impacts include an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. Social isolation, meanwhile, leads to societal dysfunctions “in our schools, workplaces, and civic organizations, where performance, productivity, and engagement are diminished.” 

The report, Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community, sounds a much-needed alarm. Loneliness and social isolation are not mere inconveniences. They are destructive forces that threaten our lives, our communities, and the future of democracy. 

To change the trajectory of this epidemic, we must help people build stronger relationships, mutual understanding, and trust in an increasingly divided country.

The Importance of Social Connection

Social connection serves, according to Dr. Murthy, as “a critical and under-appreciated contributor to individual and population health, community safety, resilience, and prosperity” as well as an effective, representative democracy.

The key components of social connection include the number and variety of our relationships, the frequency of interaction, and the degree to which these relationships—as well as our interactions with people more generally—are positive, helpful, or satisfying.

In short, our relationships matter. More than that, “interacting with people from diverse backgrounds can help to stimulate creative thinking and encourage the consideration of different perspectives, leading to better problem-solving and decision-making.”

“The nature, size, and diversity of these discussion networks,” the report explains, “are important to how individuals form opinions, attitudes, and awareness of differing perspectives. They ultimately foster political tolerance.”

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because these insights have informed our mission from the very beginning.

EP was founded by mental health practitioners and researchers who understood the sprawling power relationships have in our lives. They designed a framework, Reflective Structured Dialogue, that could repair trust and deepen connections across even the most polarizing differences.

Cornerstones of Connection

But how do we actually create community-wide cultures of connection all across the country? It begins with people like you, working at the cornerstones of your community. 

Schools and colleges, houses of worship, workplaces, and public entities like libraries, nonprofits, and arts organizations are what we call cornerstone institutions. They are leverage points for shifting the larger culture of a community or region. The report refers to them as social infrastructure:

“Institutions that gather individuals for work, study, or prayer, such as workplaces, schools, and faith organizations, can function as sources of positive connection and thereby bolster the community’s trust in those institutions and in fellow members. Investing in community connection will be important to repairing divisions and rebuilding trust in each other and our institutions, and is vital to achieving common societal goals.”

These cornerstones are the places where Americans learn—through explicit training, system design, modeling, and implicit norms—how to communicate, how to build relationships, and how to engage with those who have different identities or perspectives.

It's no accident they are also where we do ninety percent of our work every year.

What You Can Do

We are encouraged by this report and the possibility of large-scale investment in social connection, social infrastructure, and cultures of connection. But for this work to succeed, we still need you—everyday people who have the desire, the commitment, and (crucially) effective tools to transform the way people relate to each other.

That's why we offer many different ways for people to engage with us. Here are just a few opportunities:

Maybe your library, temple, or school is ready to take on a big, complex, community-wide project—but even small changes in your sphere can affect the lives of many people. No matter the scale of your ambitions, we are ready to help you develop cultures of authentic connection where you live, work, worship, and learn.

Let's get started.


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