How loneliness is hurting Americans in the post-Covid year

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, another epidemic is sweeping the country and taking a significant toll on Americans: loneliness.

In 2023, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a paper on this pressing issue of Americans' mental health – May is Mental Health Awareness Month – which included the finding that nearly one in two American adults had experienced loneliness, here Even before COVID. Lockout.

However, some of them are finding ways to return to the lonely American social circle.

Every Thursday evening in the spring, young people gather on the National Mall in the nation's capital to play kickball. The long, grassy space adjacent to iconic monuments like the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument provides a great place for them and others to come together for increasingly popular social games.

“I love it! Once you get out here and talk to people, it's always better,” said Lindsey Cowen, 31, who is looking to regain some of the social connections she lost during the pandemic. Joined the Volo Sports kickball team.

Social sports leagues like Volo – which was originally founded as an afterschool league for children in Baltimore following the murder of Freddie Gray – are growing in popularity across America and are becoming a popular platform for many people who feel isolated in modernity. Is working as a lifeline for.

“I think COVID has really impacted our generation,” said Kaylee Ann Schwarz, 24, a member of Cohen's kickball team. “I'm really grateful for the community I found here.

Both told Spotlight on America that they have experienced loneliness, especially since the pandemic.

I feel like I know a lot of lonely people, and a lot of people are still looking for community,'' Cowen said.

Gio Marcantoni, founder and CEO of Volo Sports, says he has seen a significant change in the way people communicate following the lockdown caused by the pandemic.

“I think it's more serious than we thought,” he said. “It was like, 'Wow! People don't interact like they used to anymore.' They have their iPods or headphones on, and they're walking around beating their own drum, and it seems like it's hard to talk to people.

public health crisis

Several studies suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to loneliness, but the upward trend was already well underway.

In that 2023 letter, Murthy declared loneliness a public health crisis, especially for America's youth. He reported that from 2003 to 2019, the time spent personally by youth with friends has declined by 58%.

I worry that we have become a lonely and isolated nation,” Murthy testified during a congressional hearing last June. “I worry that the balance has shifted dramatically toward online connections and away from in-person connections, especially for our children.

Murthy describes the health effects as “devastating” – increasing not only the risk of depression and anxiety, but also physical illnesses.

Research has shown that loneliness increases the risk of heart disease by 29%, increases the risk of stroke by 32%, increases the risk of dementia by 50%, and increases the risk of premature death by 60%.

“I believe eliminating loneliness is a strategic and important priority for our country,” Murthy said.

What is making us so lonely?

Psychologist and Harvard professor Rick Weissbord agrees that loneliness is a serious problem for society.

“I think we're absolutely at risk,” he told reporter Angie Moreschi.

Weisbord led a 2021 survey that found that young people had the highest levels of loneliness, contrary to the common belief that the elderly are lonelier.

A Harvard Graduate School of Education survey found that 61% of young adults (between the ages of 18-25) and 51% of mothers with young children reported “severe loneliness”—which, according to the study, means “loneliness To feel”. ''often'' or ''almost all the time or all the time'' in the past four weeks – compared with 36% of Americans overall.

“Loneliness is far more widespread among young adults than among seniors,” Weisbord said. “These are the people we should be most concerned about.”

They say changes in society that have led to a decline in close relationships are contributing to the loneliness epidemic – including the rise of remote work and social media, which can make it harder to develop true relationships with people. Is.

In many ways, personal interactions are more connecting and more gratifying,” he said.

He says other factors include more people delaying marriage and families and a decline in religious participation, which traditionally provides sources of support in times of need.

Weisbord also warned that people experiencing loneliness often become stuck in self-defeating thought patterns that perpetuate and exacerbate the problem.

“They tend to exaggerate the extent to which people are critical of them, and when they're interacting with people, they also tend to exaggerate their own flaws,” he said. “We need to let lonely people know that you are vulnerable to these self-defeating thought patterns, and you need to counter those self-defeating thought patterns that are probably not accurate.”

debilitating effects of loneliness

As a new mother, recently divorced, and working remotely during the pandemic, 29-year-old Mayra Deras said she felt she was staying connected during the lockdown. However, she learned a hard lesson: Online conversation is not the same as developing personal relationships.

“Whether it was Facebook groups or messaging, I was like, 'Oh, I have a community' — but not really. It was very superficial. When you have these social media friendships or communities, I didn't have any meaningful deep connections.

She began to experience debilitating loneliness, including depression and even periods of darkness.

“I felt like I was going through the motions, but I was doing it all. Then, when my son would go away for the weekend, I would not leave the bed,” she remembered. “I'll sit there, and I'll say, 'Get up, get up!'

Deras suffered short-term disability and received help through therapy.

I realized, oh, we need people. We need community. I need to know my neighbors.

They also found a new community of support through groups like the Campaign for Childcare and ParentsTogether, which helps keep parents connected.

Loneliness nourishes itself

Jordan Schwartzbach, 31, is another member of the Volo Kickball League in Washington, DC, and says he knows how easy it can be to stay home alone.

“It can be debilitating, right? Like, it's really hard to get out of your routine…but sitting alone also increases those feelings,” he explained.

In his interview with Spotlight on America, Weisbord said, “Loneliness can breed in itself.” Therefore, making a deliberate effort to reach out to people in person is an important solution.

If you're feeling sad or depressed, you may isolate yourself, which can make you more lonely, making you more likely to withdraw, which can increase your sadness and depression,'' Weisbord explained.

Kaylee Ann Schwarz says she feels a snowball effect when she doesn't force herself to go outside.

“The longer I go without seeing people, I definitely find myself becoming more and more unhappy.

It's not always easy to break the habit of loneliness, but the results are worth it.

“We must do it for our health. But the bigger reason to do it is that it's what makes life wonderful,” Weisburd said.


Updated Loneliness Survey

Weisbord's team at Harvard is working on an update to their loneliness survey. Spotlight on America will post those new numbers when they are released.

If you are experiencing a crisis or need help finding resources, you can call or text 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. A real person will respond 24/7 to provide support. It's free and confidential.

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