The Foundation for Social Connection, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring the development of evidence-based solutions for a socially engaged society, acknowledges the timely, seminal work of U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and his Office on the most recent public health advisory related to youth mental health.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the youth mental health crisis gained more exposure for its adverse effects on their well-being. During the past two years, and even prior to the pandemic, there has been a plethora of research highlighting factors that contribute to the surge of negative mental health symptoms in youth. The advisory’s preface states that youth mental health challenges are widespread, while also often treatable and preventable. The Surgeon General provides a key message: that our country has “an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild in a way that refocuses on our identity and common values, puts people first, and strengthens our connections to each other.”
The advisory touches on another unique but related health problem revealed by the pandemic’s safety measures, reduced in-person interactions, and social distancing: youth social isolation and loneliness (SIL). Expanding upon the Surgeon General’s Advisory, the Foundation for Social Connection (F4SC) calls attention to the association between SIL and mental health. F4SC believes the youth mental health crisis is also a social health crisis.
“We are happy to see the Surgeon General is making youth mental health a priority and that this advisory is highlighting the growing youth mental health crisis. Expanding upon the Surgeon General’s Advisory is a great first step, as much more is needed to address the various physical, behavioral, and long-term economic effects of social disconnection. What we need now is a coordinated, national response that leverages federal, state, and community efforts so that we can end social isolation and loneliness in youth,” said Founder and Executive Director, Eddie Garcia.
Research has shown that SIL affects youth mental, physical, and behavioral health not only during early development, but across their lifespan. A 2010 meta-analysis report described lack of social connections to be comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes per day, or an increased risk of premature mortality by 50 percent.
“The evidence is clear. Social disconnection can have a detrimental effect on one’s long-term mental and physical health,” said Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Chair of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Council.
Additionally, results were released today from a nationwide poll of more than 1,000 adults revealed that 78 percent of respondents believe social isolation among young people is a growing concern since the pandemic began. Read the release here.
Certain populations have been identified as being more susceptible to social isolation and loneliness
- An October 2020 AARP Foundation Social Isolation report found that younger populations reported being 20% more isolated and over 85% lonelier than adults 50 and older.
- A 2020 JAMA Pediatrics article reported higher prevalence of social isolation in LGBTQIA+ youth and an association with higher rates of self-harm, suicidal ideation and attempts.
- A 2018 School Community Journal article partnered with Beyond Differences conducted a literature review, including highly vulnerable youth and substance-dependent juvenile offenders who had double the risk of relapse into alcohol or other substances and incarceration when socially isolated.
To support youth mental health, improving social connection in youth is imperative. Institutions play a role in addressing this crisis, but federal action and leadership can assist in driving essential systemic change. A coordinated national strategy and approach that leverages public-private partnerships to build connected and resilient youth can:
- Raise awareness of SIL
- Collect and synthesize data of the prevalence of SIL and its impact
- Expand the existing literature and research on SIL
- Foster thought leadership to identify best-practices for addressing SIL and evaluating existing programs
The Foundation for Social Connection‘s (F4SC) vision is for all Americans to have the opportunities and evidence-based support necessary to be socially engaged in society. F4SC engages in education, increases public awareness, promotes innovative research, and spurs the development and implementation of evidence-based models that address social isolation/loneliness and social connection.