Analysis & Comment

Opinion | Seeking Cures for Loneliness

To the Editor:

Re “Surgeon General: We Have Become a Lonely Nation. It’s Time to Fix That,” by Vivek H. Murthy (Opinion guest essay,, April 30):

The surgeon general is right to take on the problem of loneliness as a systemic societal ill. However, he didn’t address one of the greatest drivers of loneliness: the design of our built environment.

Our car-oriented communities have robbed us of everyday pedestrian interactions and committed us to hours alone in our vehicles — not to mention drastically shrinking the world of anyone who can’t drive or afford a car.

Until we build dense, walkable neighborhoods and invest in public and nonmotorized transportation, we’ll remain isolated by design.

Carolyn Lusch
Ann Arbor, Mich.
The writer is an urban planner.

To the Editor:

The surgeon general reminds us that maintaining our mental health requires more than therapy; it’s important to create social connections and kind relationships. When I launched Born This Way Foundation with my daughter Stefani — known as Lady Gaga — we were inspired by young people we met around the world who wanted to share their stories, pledge kindness and support each other so no one felt alone.

Social connection is different for every person. That’s why we launched our Kindness in Community Fund, which donates to 22 local nonprofits that support youth mental health through a variety of approaches, such as building safe social spaces through mentorship with the Sam & Devorah Foundation for Trans Youth, laundromats that double as community centers with Civic Suds, or music-based mentorship with Guitars Over Guns.

Addressing mental health means addressing food and housing insecurity and building affirming spaces where young people can be themselves and find safety in each other. Let’s all invest in one another so we can build a kinder, healthier and more connected world.

Cynthia Germanotta
New York

To the Editor:

Dr. Vivek Murthy’s article was very poignant. Loneliness is an epidemic among senior citizens.

As he works on a framework for solving the problem, he may consider what are known as “talking benches” or “chat benches,” which are common in the United Kingdom and Australia and spreading around the world. These specifically designated benches in parks and common areas, often painted a different color, are places where members of the community can take a seat and chat with whoever may be sitting on the bench. No invitation needed.

We are working on implementing these in our community in New York City, and they would work very well around the country.

Mary Mulvihill
New York
The writer is the founder of Seniors Taking Action.

To the Editor:

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is spot on when he notes that loneliness is often associated with depression. Together they can be a toxic brew that leads to the worst outcomes, including suicide.

This is especially true for military veterans suffering in silence. Research shows that veterans are at an increased risk for social isolation and less likely to report the condition. Veterans die by suicide at twice the rate of the civilian population, and many believe that these numbers are undercounted.

Calling for a “national framework to rebuild social connection and community” is correct. At least for veterans, the Warrior Call initiative can help.

Simple by design, Warrior Call asks Americans to make a call to a veteran or service member and connect them with support, if they need it. Meaningful connection is one of the key contributors to a quality life for veterans.

Frank Larkin
Mount Airy, Md.
The writer is chief operating officer of the Troops First Foundation and chair of the Warrior Call initiative.

To the Editor:

Thank you, Dr. Vivek Murthy, for acknowledging that loneliness and isolation affect our health.

Hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and older people have been locked up in institutions across the world, deprived of family, friends and freedom, in many cases until they die.

People with mental health conditions are chained at spiritual “healing” centers in Ghana or warehoused in psychiatric facilities in India. Children with intellectual and physical disabilities are confined in windowless rooms in institutions in Serbia. People with dementia are sedated and segregated in U.S. nursing homes.

We need to build up home- and community-based services as well as housing, employment and psychosocial support so people with disabilities and older people can live independently in their communities, rather than languish in locked facilities.

It’s not only about human connection; it’s about our human rights.

Shantha Rau Barriga
The writer is director of disability rights at Human Rights Watch.

To the Editor:

The surgeon general’s excellent article on his personal struggle with loneliness didn’t remind readers that on April 21, 2017, he was fired from his post by former President Donald Trump after he had tried to initiate a “healthier and more compassionate America.” This may have contributed to the feelings beginning that year that Dr. Murthy describes.

His plan to rebuild social connection and community in America is on the right track.

George Z. Banks
San Leandro, Calif.

To the Editor:

Re “Steps to Address the Loneliness Health Crisis” (Well column, May 9):

Although service to others is correctly identified as a salve for the lonely-hearted, there is no specific mention of our communities of faith, a powerful provider of services to others, as a network of warm welcome already in place — active, flourishing and not reliant on government funding.

Here are busy, lively places where the lonely can feel immediately useful, reaching out to those in need while in the company of others, and where they will find as well a variety of opportunities for fellowship and learning.

For those who long for affiliation, find your neighborhood place of worship. There are no requirements for admission and you are already needed. Walk in the door. You will be met with open arms.

Margaret McGirr
Greenwich, Conn.

Source: Read Full Article