Policy Makers Aim to Raise Awareness and Address Loneliness Crisis 

By: LSN Partners on May 5, 2023

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, released an advisory calling attention to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in the United States. The report cites recent research showing that approximately half of U.S. adults experience loneliness daily. Some credit this to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this also accounted for information prior. 

LSN Partners is privileged to work with incredible organizations that positively assist this ongoing issue. Beyond Differences is a Califonia-based, non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire students nationwide to end social isolation and create cultures of belonging for kids and teens. Beyond Differences works with schools to provide tools that help tackle loneliness and foster a sense of community. Dr. Murthy has testified before the Senate Finance Committee that Beyond Differences and its peer-to-peer support program that helps build connection, self-esteem, and a culture of belonging at schools.

Earlier this year, at a National Association of Counties event on finding solutions to the mental health and substance abuse crisis in Washington, Dr. Murthy discussed the reasons for the increase in mental health care among children and youth; and how best to help those in need. In addition, when discussing his anxieties about walking into the lunchroom at school, Dr. Murthy highlighted Beyond Differences’ No One Eats Alone Day as an essential tool for investing in social connections. (Side Note – We at LSN Partners were able to attend the first-ever No One Eats Alone Day in Miami, Florida, this year. It was an unforgettable day full of learning, events, socializing, and, most importantly – fun!)

The U.S. Surgeon General’s report highlights how a lack of social connection can present significant health risks. For example, loneliness can increase the risk of premature death by 26% and social isolation by 29%, according to an analysis cited in the advisory. In addition, loneliness is among the primary motivations for self-harm, according to an independent review in the advisory. 

Two days later, on Thursday, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill prohibiting all children under 13 from using social media. The Bill would also give parents more control over what teenagers under 18 can access. 

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), who leads this group of Senators, recently joined the LSN Partners team and others for lunch, where this topic was discussed. Furthermore, in December 2022, the Senator wrote an op-ed on the crisis of loneliness, which states:

 “The use of social media, which once seemed to promise an antidote to loneliness, can create resentments that further breed feelings of isolation. Scrolling through endless pictures curated to embellish other people’s lives leaves many users—especially those with developing brains—feeling inadequate and wanting.”

The legislation introduced last week, entitled the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, was co-sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Katie Britt (R-AL), and Brian Schatz (D-HI). Along with age restrictions, the legislation would prohibit social media companies from using algorithms to recommend content to users under 18. Additionally, companies will be required to try and verify each user’s age through current technological capabilities, not simply the information provided by the user.

The bipartisan Bill comes when Congress has an increased appetite for regulating social media companies – as those companies have evaded stricter regulation in Washington for years. Moreover, the Senators who introduced the Bill say they believe there’s bipartisan support around the issue as most parents grapple with a burgeoning post-pandemic mental health crisis among young people. For example, according to recently released data from the CDC, 60% of teen girls reported persistent sadness or hopelessness, and 30% said they seriously considered attempting suicide. Children must know they are not alone in these feelings, so LSN Partners is proud to work closely with a Miami-based organization called the Health Information Project (“HIP”).  HIP is disrupting the traditional health class with a new, innovative peer-to-peer model, where upper-level students teach health education to their younger peers. 

We at LSN Partners will continue to keep you informed as the Bill progresses.