Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Loneliness Epidemic: Understanding and Addressing Loneliness

A national and international crisis.

This morning, May 3, 2023, United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicating loneliness and isolation as public health issues that directly impact health and well-being.

Loneliness is not only a public health crisis for the United States, but it is felt across the world. In the United States, practices of individualism push us out of the safety of communities and extended families of birth and of choice, to seek careers, find our own housing, and develop our own lifestyles. These motivations have pulled us away from communities into isolation as we pursue independent lifestyles. Loneliness is as much a risk factor for later mortality as smoking, and detrimentally impacts life expectancy.

Human connections are important, especially IRL (in real life). Family, childhood, school, friends, religious groups, and workplaces have been the traditional paths where we make human connections, but those connections don't always produce healthy relationships, and can often be the source of social, financial, and physical harm.

Loneliness and Shame

When you're feeling lonely, the first instinct may be to feel shame, and to turn to social media, or other forms of distractions. You may even consider socializing in-person which often may lead to visiting establishments where distractions numb the loneliness.

A helpful option is to think about why you're feeling lonely. If you live alone, what are the benefits and deficits of this choice? What activities do you engage in and do they help build human connections?

Research into adolescent loneliness revealed that negative thoughts about self or others can lead to experiences of loneliness coming from within, difficulty connecting with others, and from a lack of desired relationships or lack of support. And as we age, loneliness increases until later years when loneliness reduces. Another study of global loneliness reported by 46,054 showed that loneliness increased with individualism and decreased as people age; with those who identify as male living in individualist cultures representing the most vulnerable to loneliness.

Addressing Loneliness and Building Community

You have choices. You can develop healthy human connections that are based on your genuine interest, and that add to a healthy meaningful lifestyle. First, look beyond traditional choices for human connections. When you connect with other humans, beyond self-interest or circumstance or feelings of duty to family, workplace, or religions, you can focus on enjoying the company of others.

Even beyond sharing interests, what makes human connections meaningful is when you simply enjoy the other person(s) and spending time with them. This is one of the components that is also missing when people seek romantic partnerships. Society tells us we should choose for attractiveness, money, access to resources, escaping our current lifestyle; or simply just to partner, so we aren't alone. Countless reality shows capitalize on loneliness by offering instant partnership options, again, if you are attractive enough, thin enough, young enough, attention-seeking, and willing to expose your personal life to the scrutiny of global audiences.

Reducing loneliness can occur by recognizing and understanding why you feel alone, focusing energy and efforts on the things you enjoy and that make you feel good, and then making conscious choices to connect with other humans because you simply enjoy who they are and enjoy being around them. These human connections can build communities of togetherness.

Togetherness is the state of being close to other people. Building "togetherness communities" helps you develop meaningful connections with others, despite physical appearances or differences in social identities or belief systems. These are the people you enjoy connecting with in healthy ways and can open opportunities to build communities of togetherness.


Barreto, M., Victor, C., Hammond, C., Eccles, A., Richins, M. T., & Qualter, P. (2021). Loneliness around the world: Age, gender, and cultural differences in loneliness. Personality and Individual Differences, 169, 110066, 1-6.

Mansfield, L., Victor, C., Meads, C., Daykin, N., Tomlinson, A., Lane, J., Gray, K., & Golding, A. (2021). A Conceptual Review of Loneliness in Adults: Qualitative Evidence Synthesis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(21), 11522, 1-19.

Verity, L., Schellekens, T., Adam, T., Sillis, F., Majorano, M., Wigelsworth, M., Qualter, P., Peters, B., Stajniak, S., Maes, M., Leerstoel Finkenauer, & Youth in Changing Cultural Contexts. (2021). Tell Me about Loneliness: Interviews with Young People about What Loneliness Is and How to Cope with It. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(22), 1-31.

More from Vernita Perkins, PhD and Leonard A. Jason, PhD
More from Psychology Today