During the coronavirus pandemic, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy hasn’t exactly emerged as one of the nation’s most prominent public health officials, despite the high status of his position.
Serious and soft-spoken, Murthy has been frequently overshadowed on cable news and social media by the likes of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s top pandemic adviser, and Dr. Ashish Jha, the pandemic coordinator. White House Pandemic Response Team.
But as the pandemic has subsided, Murthy has become increasingly vocal about the concerns he first voiced in his 2020 book, “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection.” in a sometimes lonely world.
Released just weeks after the nation went into lockdown, ‘Together’ seems geared towards a post-pandemic world, a world in which the virus itself has receded for many people as a health issue, while psychological challenges caused by the pandemic have only increased more pronounced.
Over the past few weeks, Murthy has released two notable advisories that aim to combat a culture of cultural isolation fostered by growing internet addiction. While the work he describes goes far beyond the scope of a single office, Murthy’s focus represents what is likely to be a major concern for healthcare professionals and policy makers in the years to come. coming.
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the lonely american
“Loneliness is more than just an unpleasant feeling – it harms both individual health and society,” Murthy wrote in a new advisory published earlier this month, titled “Our epidemic of loneliness and ‘isolation”.
The 82-page document is a candid acknowledgment that American adults have fewer and fewer meaningful relationships outside of immediate family and work — and that the lack of those relationships has serious health issues, much like to those of a habitual smoker.
Lack of social connection, writes Murthy, makes Americans “angry, sick and lonely.” And while social media was already disrupted by economic, social and other forces before the pandemic took hold in 2020, shutdowns, school closures and the rise of remote working have only exacerbated the crisis.
Murthy calls on policy makers, business leaders and healthcare professionals to foster a “culture of connection” that treats chronic, unwanted loneliness as a disease. Whether they take this into account remains an open question.
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Beyond the Screen
Social habits do not arise spontaneously, but rather are shaped by the values that a society imparts to young adults.
In a second May advisory, titled “Social Media and Youth Mental Health,” Murthy says a growing addiction to social media is leading young adults to experience low self-esteem, as well as symptoms related to anxiety and to depressive disorders. Social media platforms also routinely expose teens to inappropriate and dangerous content.
Murthy describes a study of 10,000 14-year-olds that “found that greater use of social media predicted poor sleep, online bullying, poor body image, low self-esteem and symptom scores depression with a greater association for girls than for boys.
While the 45-year-old surgeon general and father of two acknowledges that social media platforms can foster the “ability to form and maintain friendships online”, he strongly suggests that we have not done enough to consider the harms of a heavily digital existence, a trend that was accelerated by the pandemic, when millions of children attended school and even summer camps online.
“Our children and teenagers don’t have the luxury of waiting years until we know the full extent of social media’s impact,” he writes. But the popularity of platforms like TikTok suggests a neat political fix is out of reach.
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An uncertain future
The number of stressors in the lives of Americans can seem overwhelming. From the cost of childcare to the global warming crisis, the kind of inner peace essential for mental well-being can be hard to come by, especially for people who can’t afford vacations or even a few holidays. .
The rise of artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT could act as an accelerator, potentially deepening social divisions while displacing large segments of the workforce.
Only one answer: help others. Recent studies have shown that volunteering can improve mental health, while mending a small piece of a fractured and broken world.
“Service is a powerful antidote to loneliness,” Murthy recently said.
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