Film Panel to Discuss Loneliness Epidemic and Importance of Social Connection

June 11, 2024 by Anna Claire Miller
Film Panel to Discuss Loneliness Epidemic and Importance of Social Connection

WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy are set to host a film panel discussion on the dangers of loneliness in American society Tuesday evening, following a showing of the documentary “Join or Die” at the Capitol Visitor Center.

Created by Rebecca Davis and Pete Davis, the documentary sheds light on the issues of loneliness and isolation through the research of Robert Putnam, a Harvard social scientist and author of “Bowling Alone.”

In the 1980s, Putnam encountered social science data out of Italy that propelled him on a three-decade quest to investigate the country’s apparent civic decline.

This led him to a review of the major social trends of the past 50 years, ranging from community engagement in the 1990s, to the culture wars of the 2000s and to ethnic diversity and economic inequality in the 2010s.

This research inspired Putnam to coin the term “social capital.”

It was in part due to this research that Murphy introduced the National Strategy for Social Connection Act in July 2023. 

The bill currently sits in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

If it ultimately passes, it would create an Office of Social Connection Policy within the White House to develop effective strategies for social infrastructure and connection. 

It would also provide funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the effects of loneliness and isolation. 

Murthy has served as the nation’s 19th and 21st surgeon general and in October 2022 was appointed to be the U.S. representative to the World Health Organization’s executive board by President Biden. 

Murthy has said that when he first took office as surgeon general in 2014, he did not view loneliness as a public health concern.

However, he made headlines last year, when he declared it to be just that in his report “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.”

Murthy has said he based that report on a cross-country listening tour, during which people repeatedly told him they “felt isolated, invisible, and insignificant. Even when they couldn’t put their finger on the word ‘lonely’.”

Further research revealed that “about one-in-two adults in America reported experiencing loneliness —and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Murthy said. 

In the wake of COVID-19, loneliness and isolation have become common topics and worries within the medical field. 

Murthy states in his report, “Loneliness leads to severe health issues that include dementia, stroke, cardiovascular disease, depression, anxiety and even premature death. The mortality impact is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”

Statistics have increasingly shown that our involvement with others, or “social capital” has been in steady decline since the 1960s. Some of the most compelling results are:

  • A 50% decline between the 1970s to the 1990s in the number of Americans who took any leadership role in any local organization.
  • A 50% decline between the 1970s to the 1990s in the number of times Americans attended a club meeting the previous year.
  • A 35% decline between the 1960s to the 2020s in religious congregation membership. 

Murphy stated in his legislation proposal, “Loneliness is one of the most serious, misunderstood problems facing America today. It leads to worse health outcomes and breeds political instability. It’s time for a real conversation about how we can combat social isolation, promote connection, and strengthen communities.”

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    WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy are set to host a film panel... Read More

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