UPSIDE: Time for Minister of Loneliness?

SAN MATEO COUNTY Supervisor David Canepa is on to something big.

As the Board of Supervisors on January 30 passed 5-0 a resolution declaring loneliness as a public health crisis, the District 5 representative pressed for the creation of a Minister of Loneliness similar to that already in place in the UK and Japan.

“Many people are suffering alone in silence and there’s no cure for it,” Canepa said in a statement. “…There are ways we all can make a difference by extending love, support and real help to our neighbors, older adults and families before loneliness does become a crisis and leads to horrible incomes such as suicide.”

Canepa assessed that “In San Mateo County alone, 45% of residents reported experiencing difficulty with isolation and loneliness, with certain demographic groups facing heightened challenges in accessing social support networks.”

The alarm echoes that sounded last spring by US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who declared loneliness an “epidemic” with devastating impact on health all around as he delivered recommendations to combat the “public health crisis.”

“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,” said Murthy. 

“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,” he added.  “Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.”

If you think loneliness affects only a certain population, you’d off the mark.

Because last year Fortune highlighted a June study by A/B Consulting with Maveron VC firm that found loneliness and isolation afflicting many Americans across the board.  While Baby Boomers are often thought to be the most affected, the study found Gen Z at 38% and Millennialsat 37% on top.  Gen X composed 31% of those who said they were lonely.  Boomers?  Way behind at 19%.

The culprit per the study is technology.  Or to be fair, attachment to it.

Back to the generation gap: Gen Z said they spent 73% of their time online as opposed to Millennials at 64%, Gen X at 56% and Boomers at 40%.   Forty-six percent said they spend more screen time than in-person interaction – for 8 or more hours a day.

“We are ‘50% human and 50% technology,’ and it’s fueling an American health crisis,” the Fortune article blared.

For older adults, the issue likely is lack of access to a strong support system, a priority issue behind the California Master Plan and the Age-Friendly Communities Initiative, both of which fall under Canepa’s purview as BoS liaison to the County Commission on Aging.

As for a Minister of Loneliness?  The template was initiated in 2016 by the late British MP Jo Cox resulting in what is now the UK Commission on Loneliness established to reduce loneliness through measurements and strategies in collaboration with multisectoral and government bodies including tech companies and community organizations.

(Cherie M. Querol Moreno is Executive Editor of Philippine News Today.  Last year she completed her 12-year service as San Mateo County Commissioner on Aging.  Currently she manages the Got Wheels! transportation program of Peninsula Family Service.)