On Thursday, the public health agency announced the formation of an international commission tasked with combatting the “global public health concern” of loneliness and social isolation.
The Commission on Social Connection will be co-led by U.S. surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy and Zimbabwe’s African Union Youth Commissioner, Chido Mpemba.
Earlier this year, Murthy published an advisory claiming the health risks associated with loneliness are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes every day. The report also said loneliness increases the risk of premature death by nearly 30 per cent.
Murthy encouraged lonely people to search for the “healing power” of relationships.
“Anyone, anywhere, can be lonely or socially isolated,” the WHO wrote on its website. “Across all ages and regions, loneliness and social isolation have serious impacts on our physical and mental health, and the well-being of our communities and society.”
One in four older adults experiences social isolation, according to the health authority. In similarly alarming data, up to 15 per cent of adolescents also experience loneliness. (The WHO estimated both of these figures to be “conservative.”)
Rates of loneliness are similar all over the world, regardless of a country’s status and level of income.
In Africa specifically, Mpemba told the Guardian that the continent’s population of predominately young people faces challenges around peace, security, unemployment and the climate crisis, which are contributing factors to social isolation.
The COVID-19 pandemic also reportedly made rates of loneliness in individuals increase on an international level.
The WHO’s initiative will last three years and will attempt to build global policies that encourage high-risk, secluded persons to integrate into the society where they live. The group will assert that social isolation is not an individualized issue, but rather one that effects entire communities.
Potential solutions to a loneliness epidemic range from “broad national policies to psychological interventions for individuals,” the WHO claimed.
The Commission on Social Connection includes 11 WHO representatives from the U.S., Zimbabwe, Sweden, Pakistan, Japan, Vanuatu, Chile and Morocco.
“I am thrilled to work closely with an outstanding group of commissioners on advancing social connection – a vital component of well-being,” Murthy said in a statement. “Together, we can build a world that is less lonely, healthier, and more resilient.”
The WHO Commission on Social Connection will meet for the first time on Dec. 6, according to United Press International. The group plans to release a comprehensive report about global loneliness in the summer of 2025.
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