We Need Social Connection Now More Than Ever
In his new book, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy argues for the health benefits of social connection
With so many Americans under shelter-in-place orders because of the Covid-19 pandemic, loneliness is building in homes around the country. For public health experts like Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general under the Obama administration, that disconnect is reason for alarm.
In fact, well before the first case of Covid-19 surfaced, Murthy was at work on a book about the loneliness epidemic, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. “I never imagined when I wrote the book that it would end up being as relevant as it is at this particular moment,” he says.
Elemental caught up with Murthy ahead of his book’s April 28 publication to talk about staying healthy and connected in lonely times, the impact of the virus on the medical profession, and how public health experts continue to feel muzzled.
Elemental: Your new book is about the loneliness epidemic. What are the negative health consequences of loneliness, and what might happen to lonely people who are sheltering in place right now?
Dr. Vivek Murthy: We know that chronic loneliness has consequences. It certainly depresses our mood. And in terms of our health, people who struggle with loneliness also have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety. Loneliness is also associated with a shorter lifespan. So, it’s important that we recognize that loneliness is more than just a bad feeling — it’s a bad feeling that has consequences for our happiness as well as for our physical health.
With social distancing, there’s a risk that we will deepen the loneliness we’re experiencing and incur a “social recession,” if you will, as a result of prolonged separation from each other. I think the key part for me, though, is recognizing that it does not have to be that way. There’s an alternative pathway, which is that we use this opportunity to recognize and refocus on the power and importance of our relationships with each other, and that we commit to prioritizing our relationships even after Covid-19 is over. And which path we walk down…