I recently read Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Social Isolation 2023. The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community.

A little long, but what an interesting and compelling title. 

It’s an 81-page report with 325 footnotes and references to research on this topic. The report is reviewed by 49 peers in the fields of mental health, academia, community service, and government.

You would think it would be dry reading from the government, but it isn’t. I’m going to highlight the main points of the report. If you want to read the entire document click on the link at the bottom of the show notes. 

The Surgeon General's introduction

This report on loneliness and social isolation starts with an introductory letter from the current US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy. I’ll quote the key points from his letter.

When I first took office as Surgeon General in 2014, I didn’t view loneliness as a public health concern. But that was before I embarked on a cross-country listening tour, where I heard stories from my fellow Americans that surprised me. 

People began to tell me they felt isolated, invisible, and insignificant. Even when they couldn’t put their finger on the word “lonely,” time and time again, people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, from every corner of the country, would tell me, “I have to shoulder all of life’s burdens by myself,” or “if I disappear tomorrow, no one will even notice.” 

A lightbulb moment

It was a lightbulb moment for me: social disconnection was far more common than I had realized. 

Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling—it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.

And the harmful consequences of a society that lacks social connection can be felt in our schools, workplaces, and civic organizations, where performance, productivity, and engagement are diminished. 

Each of us can start now, in our own lives, by strengthening our connections and relationships. Our individual relationships are an untapped resource—a source of healing hiding in plain sight. They can help us live healthier, more productive, and more fulfilled lives. Answer that phone call from a friend. Make time to share a meal. Listen without the distraction of your phone. Perform an act of service. Express yourself authentically. The keys to human connection are simple, but extraordinarily powerful. 

Here are the highlights I’m quoting from the rest of the report

The lack of social connection poses a significant risk for individual health and longevity. Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk for premature death by 26% and 29% respectively. More broadly,

lacking social connection can increase the risk for premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

 In addition, poor or insufficient social connection is associated with increased risk of disease, including a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Furthermore, it is associated with increased risk for anxiety, depression, and dementia. Additionally, the lack of social connection may increase susceptibility to viruses and respiratory illness.


A 2022 study found that when people were asked how close they felt to others emotionally, only 39% of adults in the U.S. said that they felt very connected to others. An important indicator of this declining social connection is an increase in the proportion of Americans experiencing loneliness. 

Recent surveys have found that approximately half of U.S. adults report experiencing loneliness, with some of the highest rates among young adults. These estimates and multiple other studies indicate that loneliness and isolation are more widespread than many of the other major health issues of our day, including smoking.

Factors contributing to loneliness and social isolation

Polls conducted in 1972 showed that roughly 45% of Americans felt they could reliably trust other Americans; however, that proportion shrank to roughly 30% in 2016.


In 1960, single-person households accounted for only 13% of all U.S. households. By the year 2022, that number more than doubled, to 29% of all households.


In 2018, only 16% of Americans reported that they felt very attached to their local community.

The only mention of the role the church can play in this issue

In 2020, only 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque. This is down from 70% in 1999 and represents a dip below 50% for the first time in the history of the survey question. 

Religious or faith-based groups can be a source for regular social contact, serve as a community of support, provide meaning and purpose, create a sense of belonging around shared values and beliefs, and are associated with reduced risk-taking behaviors.

Young adults and social media

The rate of loneliness among young adults has increased every year between 1976 and 2019.

A review of 63 studies concluded that loneliness and social isolation among children and adolescents increase the risk of depression and anxiety, and that this risk remained high even up to nine years later.


In a U.S.-based study, participants who reported using social media for more than two hours a day had about double the odds of reporting increased perceptions of social isolation compared to those who used social media for less than 30 minutes per day.

How loneliness and social isolation affect our health

A synthesis of data across 16 independent longitudinal studies shows poor social relationships (social isolation, poor social support, loneliness) were associated with a 29% increase in the risk of heart disease and a 32% increase in the risk of stroke.


Chronic loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of developing dementia by approximately 50% in older adults.

What helps in the midst of loneliness and social isolation

Frequently confiding in others is associated with up to 15% reduced odds of developing depression among people who are already at higher risk due to their history of traumatic or otherwise adverse life experiences.


Adults across the globe rate their social relationships, particularly with family and close friends, as the most important source of meaning, purpose, and motivation in their lives.

How we can respond to the loneliness and social isolation all around us

I love the summary paragraphs near the end of the report. I think it would be great if we could substitute the phrase “the church” for the phrase “a world” in the paragraphs below.

There are certainly individual congregations that would fit the following paragraphs. But we need more of them. In my view, they’re in short supply, which helps explain why people are leaving the church.

In a world where we recognize that relationships are just as essential to our well-being as the air we breathe and the food we eat, is a world where everyone is healthier, physically and mentally. It is a world where we respect and value one another, where we look out for one another, and where we create opportunities to uplift one another. 

A world where our highs are higher because we celebrate them together; where our lows are more manageable because we respond to them together; and where our recovery is faster because we grieve and rebuild together.

It is a world where we are strong enough to hold our differences, where we are more comfortable and motivated to engage civically, and where our leaders and institutions are more representative of the people they serve. It is a world where we trust one another, where we feel safe to challenge one another and change our minds, and where prosperity and progress are not the privilege of the few but accessible to all.

We can choose, in short, to take the core values that make us strong—love, kindness, respect, service, and commitment to one another—and reflect them in the world we build for ourselves and our children.

Specific strategies we can employ

The report goes on to suggest specific strategies individuals can employ to counter loneliness and social isolation.  I’ll mention them in next week’s blog post, along with my own thoughts and commentary.

As you would expect from the government, little is mentioned about the application of biblical principles for dealing with loneliness. Same is true for the role of the church in helping people feel less lonely and isolated. More on this next week.

Here’s the link to the entire report: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf

What About You?

How do you react to the Surgeon General’s report? What thoughts arise within you?

I wonder what you see that’s worked for dealing with loneliness and social isolation. Either for yourself or for others.  Please share your  thoughts in the comment box at the end.

Other Relationship Resources

Last week’s blog post, “Important Relationship Issues to Consider”

Episode 139 of You Were Made for This,  “Why Should I Listen to this Podcast? “

THEM -The Richer Life Found in Caring for Others

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