San Mateo County, California, has become the first county in the U.S. to declare loneliness a public health emergency.
This comes after a unanimous vote by the county's Board of Supervisors.
"We have 45% of the people who find themselves being lonely, that suffer from loneliness," the board's vice president David Canepa told local station ABC 7.
Canepa introduced the resolution in hopes it can make a difference in the surging loneliness his county has experienced since the pandemic.
Canepa also wrote a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, asking him to develop a new "minister of loneliness" position for the state, ABC 7 reported.
The move follows the lead of U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who called loneliness and isolation an epidemic last year.
"Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives," Murthy said upon releasing a loneliness advisory last May.
"Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders. Together, we can build a country that's healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected," he said.
Loneliness has both physical and mental effects on one's health.
Physically, the consequences of insufficient connection include a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia for older adults, according to Murthy's advisory. A lack of social connection also increases the risk of premature death by over 60%.
From a mental standpoint, those who report feeling lonely face more than double the risk of developing depression compared to those who rarely feel isolated. Loneliness during childhood also raises the risk of depression and anxiety well into adulthood, the advisory said.
Across the world, one in four adults — which translates to more than a billion people —report feeling lonely, according to a Meta-Gallup survey released in the fall.
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