Lack of social connections has the health implication equivalency of smoking 15 cigarettes per day, whereas maintaining a strong social community can increase odds of survival by 50%, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, said in a 2023 report.

Physically, isolation and loneliness may increase risk of heart disease by 29%, stroke by 23%, dementia by 50% in older adults, and premature death by more than 60%. Mentally, they may contribute to depression and anxiety as well as risk of self-harm or suicide.

“Given the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity, and the addiction crisis,” Murthy said. He outlined six pillars for doing so in the report.

Pillar 3 calls the country to mobilize the health sector by training healthcare providers, assessing and supporting patients, and expanding public health surveillance and interventions. Specific strategies include:

  • Integrate social connection into patient care.
  • Educate patients about the risk of isolation and loneliness and incentivize them to take action.
  • Connect researchers and clinicians to create evidence-based, population-specific assessment tools.
  • Reimburse health professionals’ time spent assessing and addressing social connection.
  • Formally train health professionals on risks, prevention, and interventions.

“We have the power to respond. By taking small steps every day to strengthen our relationships, and by supporting community efforts to rebuild social connection, we can rise to meet this moment together. We can build lives and communities that are healthier and happier. And we can ensure our country and the world are better poised than ever to take on the challenges that lay ahead,” Murthy said.

“Our future depends on what we do today.”