Top Psychiatrist Says 'Go Back to Church' as Loneliness Now a Major US Health Threat
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The U.S. Surgeon General says loneliness is now a public health threat so severe that it's on par with smoking and obesity.
For far too many Americans, loneliness can become a painful secret, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D. said, revealing that he experienced this firsthand.
"This is an issue so many people struggle with in the shadows because they feel ashamed. And that was true for me as well," he told ABC News.
Like many others, Dr. Murthy experienced loneliness as a child, and again as an adult.
"It was my wife Alice who stepped in and said, 'Hey I'm worried about you because you're not reaching out to people. You're not socializing with your friends,'" Dr. Murthy recalled.
Last month, Dr. Murthy released a new Surgeon General Advisory calling attention to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in our country. He said loneliness increases the risk of physical ailments like heart disease, dementia, and stroke plus mental ones, including depression, anxiety, and suicide. He adds the possibility of premature death due to loneliness could equal that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and can pose a greater health risk than living with obesity.
Murthy said about half of adults are struggling with loneliness and even greater numbers of children are. That can be surprising given the fact that many young people are frequently connecting with their peers online. However, Murthy said technology serves as a poor substitute for in-person connection.
Mental health experts, like psychiatrist Daniel Amen believe social media can prove to be addicting, and therefore predict the problem will only get worse.
"I actually believe we're on the beginning of a tidal wave of brain and mental health problems in young people, and it's because we're more disconnected than ever before, disconnected from our own families because when people are together their faces are buried in their gadgets," Dr. Amen told CBN News.
Dr. Amen said loneliness was a serious problem in America before the pandemic, but the COVID-19-related shut-downs made loneliness "exponentially worse." He points out that while the pandemic is over, many people continue to remain isolated from those with whom they interacted before the pandemic. Therefore, he recommends minimizing screen time while maximizing in-person interactions.
"So it's back to church," he said. "Go back to church. Get involved. Get involved with groups. We have to go back. And really, no better place to solve it than the church."
Dr. Amen also believes more public resources should be used to hire and train mental health professionals so they're more accessible and affordable to the people who need them.
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