In May, the Surgeon General’s office released an advisory sounding the alarm on the epidemic of loneliness plaguing our society. Americans are lonelier and more socially disconnected than ever, contributing to a decline in our mental health and well-being. When we link the effects of social disconnection with the evidence that lawyers, law students, and others in the legal industry are particularly susceptible to adverse outcomes of disconnection, it is a clear signal that we can and must work to combat social isolation and loneliness in our firms and schools. Read on for key takeaways from the report and ideas on moving forward in light of it.
Five Things You Need to Know From the Surgeon General’s Report
- Loneliness and isolation are public health issues, not personal failings. Loneliness and isolation have severe physical consequences, not just mental health consequences. In his introduction to the advisory, the Surgeon General tells us that “the mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”
- This epidemic is not new. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of US adults reported measurable levels of loneliness. It has, however, been exacerbated by the last three years of the pandemic and its aftermath.
- The report compares the need to address loneliness and isolation to other public health priorities such as tobacco use, obesity, and the addiction crisis. It suggests that the same investments should be made in addressing social connection to combat the loneliness epidemic.
- Risk factors for loneliness and isolation vary. Various factors, including age, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity, lead to loneliness and isolation. (As another point of reference, recent research in the legal field reveals that isolation, in addition to high levels of stress and workloads, leads to a higher risk of suicidal ideation among lawyers.)
- Combating loneliness requires a communal effort. Loneliness and isolation cannot be solved by individuals alone. Rather, workplaces and communities must work together to create support systems.
Five Things You Can Do
- Prioritize social connections for yourself. Make an effort to spend quality time with friends and family, attend social events, and actively seek out new connections.
- Reach out for help if you’re feeling lonely. Don’t be afraid to talk to a therapist or a friend; often, just talking about what you’re going through can help relieve feelings of isolation.
- Consider how your organization can foster connection and seek to support your organization’s efforts. The report recommends creating practices and a workplace culture that allow people to connect to one another as whole people, not just as skill sets, and that fosters inclusion and belonging.
- Advocate for change in your community. Push for policies or programs that reduce social and economic inequality and create more opportunities for social interaction.
- Spread the word. Share what you’ve learned about loneliness and isolation with others, and work to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.