Articles, Blog

The Loneliness Epidemic | Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Social Isolation

December 15, 2019


[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.

34 Comments

  • Reply Thicc Man September 20, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    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

  • Reply Aa AA September 20, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    WOW… just WOW… 🙂

  • Reply Virginia B. Britton September 20, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    Volunteer to help with something good. Meet the best people ever.

  • Reply Aleksandar Ivano September 20, 2019 at 6:31 pm

    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.

  • Reply Aleksandar Ivano September 20, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    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!

  • Reply LibertarianJRT September 20, 2019 at 8:06 pm

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

  • Reply NG B September 20, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    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!

  • Reply Matronista September 20, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    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.

  • Reply The thinking Griesbach September 21, 2019 at 12:34 am

    But I wanted to be like Batman???

  • Reply Kimberly Cooper September 21, 2019 at 1:06 am

    Grrrr! If you want me to be more social, get mental health therapy for the bigots and bullies in society. Recently, I had to distance myself from a person who would make "suggestions" about things I should do with my life. If I didn't do those things, the person would insult and ridicule me. After twice telling her to stop, I finally terminated the friendship on the third time she started it up again. She's definitely old enough to know better than to treat people that way.

    Thank you for accepting that extraverts enjoy having more friends and introverts enjoy having fewer friends.

  • Reply art queen September 21, 2019 at 3:43 am

    ?

  • Reply Adnan A September 21, 2019 at 4:43 am

    The impact of loneliness on morbidity and mortality is frightening.

  • Reply Esther Sanborn September 21, 2019 at 6:00 am

    One's peace within ofttimes can open toward another. Yet, if one is not settled within their own spirit, it is difficult to be with and for others. To aid oneself in personal loneliness, sit with yourself and become very comfortable with silence and purity of spirit. Stepping, then away and out becomes natural and with great ease.

  • Reply huma Ali September 21, 2019 at 7:25 am

    So insightful.
    I feel like my job as a hospitalist makes me crave loneliness. At the hospital there are at least 100 ppl looking to talk to me at any given day, ( and all these are meaningful conversations ) so I come home and want to see no one , hear no one and just want stillness around me.
    My deepest truest connections have also formed at work. I don’t seek any relationships outside work as I feel my need for human connection is more than fulfilled with what I do.
    I wonder what will happen when I’m unable to work 12 hour days and nights.
    Is there data on loneliness in medical professionals once they stop working ?

  • Reply Amy S September 21, 2019 at 7:35 am

    I mean, Britney did warn us about this a while ago ??‍♀️??‍♀️

  • Reply John doe September 21, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    Mental health in America is serious. I feel it everyday. Comments are pure lies, you can't even see people's expression. You can't really connect with them.

  • Reply Undercover Meme September 21, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    I want more of this conversation

  • Reply dramaturge231 September 21, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    This was a really great episode. Thanks so much.

    I was feeling lonely and depressed last week and was so uplifted after going out and connecting with patients and providers at a community clinic I volunteered at.

  • Reply English Irish September 23, 2019 at 3:38 am

    I can't trust anyone. I have pets

  • Reply English Irish September 23, 2019 at 3:39 am

    My family lives 3,000mileswawy

  • Reply Nikki Tea October 9, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Party at zdoggs house

  • Reply DeltaPlane October 21, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    Ohh after 10+ years of depresion, anxiety i just found out about it. So now i have POWER to chop snakes head off and start all over again.

  • Reply Lost in Sauce October 26, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    I feel like I'm just living to work. All of my time goes towards work work work. I'm 20 and live with my parents. I still can't afford to support myself even after working and going to school full time. I really just don't enjoy life whatsoever right now. I feel completely powerless and hopeless. Thank God I'm not the violent type, because if I was I would have snapped a long time ago.

  • Reply 0__0 October 28, 2019 at 9:23 pm

    the reverse things happens to me. when i'm confronted by an idiot : just 10 days of my is gone pufff…..

  • Reply Support Tribe October 30, 2019 at 9:56 pm

    The solution is high quality personal relationships. Tough to do in a busy world. Smart phones are here to stay, social media is here to stay, so are gaming, newsfeeds and other addictive distractions. We need a new tool that acknowledges these realities and creates a new paradigm for staying connected in healthy ways.

  • Reply Rachel Covington October 31, 2019 at 9:45 pm

    Dr. Z. You don’t look or seem like and Indian. Now your guest seem more Indian. You don’t act weird like those smart nerdy Indian kids. You are cool and act sorta like a black guy. And you just seem approachable and American and just not Indian at all.

  • Reply Rachel Covington October 31, 2019 at 9:46 pm

    The o my way I can tell you are Indian is by the eyebrows and your intelligence

  • Reply Huntersmoonx Grim November 4, 2019 at 2:52 am

    Thanks feminism.

  • Reply Artimes November 11, 2019 at 11:38 am

    I am sorry but this is a serious conversation and social isolation and disability is not something to laugh at. It affects alot of people and one of the ordeals we face especially for people that have disabilities. The guy on the right is very disrespectful and he's making light of the subject and laughing. I find that aggravating as hell.

  • Reply francisco fernandes November 20, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    ICU doctor here. I spend more time and even consider the staff of the ICU my family more than my actual.

  • Reply Genie Meadows November 22, 2019 at 2:52 am

    I would not much advise people to volunteer joining groups these days.People can be vicious and as Jesus says the love of many will grow cold (we are there now and this is the final generation to Jesus return).  Women especially are mostly vile,  jealous,  bullying etc. and all woman stick to their own little groups and do not like anyone else joining.  Older men have huge rage issues and spirits (literal evil spirit) of rejection which makes them toxic.   I'd suggest one on one company.  Some people in England send a one on one person to be a buddy to the lonely elderly just to chat,  play a board game, whatever.  There's a youtube vid about that.  That is good.  I think grown kids who move to another city or country to their parents are  terrible.  They need to be there for parents (unless they have been abused or something or have to go to another place to work for a while).

  • Reply LEGO PRODUCTIONS November 23, 2019 at 11:42 am

    "Dr im lonely…tests confirmed it)…. doc says..(mmmm….ok im sorry to tell you, what you have is terminal, about 6months at best, good idea to get you affairs in order)..very very sorry….

  • Reply unknowntuber unknowntuber November 26, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    incels are the only people that are lonely but of course they wont talk about that.

  • Reply Fave O. Ritt December 1, 2019 at 4:39 am

    I like the guy in the white shirt, the guy in the blue shirt doesnt listen

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