One of the wealthiest counties in the United States has become the first to declare loneliness a public health crisis officially. The Board of Supervisors in San Mateo, located in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, passed a resolution on January 30 to make it official. The resolution calls for the county to promote social connection and aims to help residents who are experiencing isolation. The move comes as global concerns over the impact of social isolation and loneliness are on the rise.
According to a 2022 survey in the county, 45% of residents reported struggling with loneliness. This is a significant number considering that San Mateo is home to companies such as NetSuite, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Franklin Templeton Investments, Coupa Software, Solstice, and Guidewire Software among others. The county is also home to many older citizens who may be more susceptible to isolation.
The move to declare loneliness a public health emergency will allow the county to focus on ways to address the issue. The resolution also calls for creating a state-level minister for loneliness, following in the footsteps of the UK and Japan, which both have appointed ministers to the position. The county will also use its resources to promote the importance of social connection and provide tools for individuals to build more connections.
In a statement, San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa praised the decision. He noted that “loneliness is a public health threat with far-reaching consequences for both mental and physical well-being.” He also said that the resolution was inspired by US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s recent advisory highlighting the link between loneliness and poorer health outcomes.
However, some experts are cautious about the approach. They argue that medicalizing loneliness mystifies a complex and multifaceted problem. It could also misrepresent the severity of the situation and lead to more stigma surrounding it. The use of language associated with medicine can be counterproductive, and it may encourage people to keep their feelings private for fear of being viewed as sick.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the declaration of loneliness as a public health crisis will draw attention to this hidden epidemic. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently dubbed loneliness as a global health threat with far-reaching consequences for people’s mental and physical well-being. The global health body also linked loneliness with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
As a result, the WHO has launched a commission on social connection to develop strategies for addressing loneliness and increasing social participation.