Being human can be lonely.
US Surgeon General Vivek H. Merthy said in 2017 that Americans are experiencing a "loneliness epidemic" in part because of the oppressive and impersonal workplace. Then the pandemic struck, and loneliness turned from a personal shame into a national problem. Coronavirus measures have forced millions out of work and school, and fears of social isolation have intensified as vulnerable people are cut off from family and friends and our social life moves more and more online. Serious headlines have asked if technology will make lonely people sad.
Loneliness levels are now down from the average peak of the epidemic, when 25% of American adults said they feel lonely "several times a day," according to a Gallup poll. The survey found that as gyms and offices reopen, 17% feel lonely. It's better than before, but 44 million singles is a problem that deserves attention.
Feelings of loneliness are associated with negative health outcomes, including heart disease, stroke, cognitive decline, and low immunity. Some studies compare social isolation to the same mortality risks as smoking. More recent research has found a link between loneliness and Alzheimer's disease.
Loneliness also makes us more anxious and depressed as we navigate life's storms and turn to close friends for help. Friendship circles in America have dwindled significantly since the 1990s, according to the Center for the Study of American Life. More than 300 million people around the world have no friends, and one in five people have no friends or family to turn to, according to a Gallup poll. when times are tough.
One of our national concerns is to understand who or what causes loneliness, an ancient human condition. Is it social networks? Distant work? Nuclear family? Not enough sidewalks?
Americans say that the reasons for loneliness in real life are different. People feel lonely after a breakup, a move, or an unbearable job. Isolation at 22 is also different from 82. Technology, including social media, often helps create new relationships. Other times it makes people worse.
The Washington Post asked people of all ages to share their experiences of loneliness and the role of technology. From high school students to new moms to people living with the elderly, we explore how people make and keep friends. Are tech companies helping the lonely or making a profit? Join us as we tell their stories.