The Power of His Voice
In 2017, he found himself struggling with loneliness.
By the world’s standards, it seemed as if he had it all – a beloved family, a successful medical career, a best-selling book about loneliness, disconnection, and isolation. He had just completed a term as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, a pinnacle of success as a physician.
And yet, he was lonely.
He wrote in an opinion piece – “Surgeon General: We Have Become a Lonely Nation. It’s Time to Fix That.”, on April 30, 2023, in the New York Times:
My first stint as surgeon general had just ended. I was suddenly disconnected from the colleagues with whom I had spent most of my waking hours. It might not have been so bad had I not made a critical mistake: I had largely neglected my friendships during my tenure, convincing myself that I had to focus on work and I couldn’t do both.
Even when I was physically with the people I loved, I wasn’t present — I was often checking the news and responding to messages in my inbox. After my job ended, I felt ashamed to reach out to friends I had ignored. I found myself increasingly lonely and isolated, and it felt as if I was the only one who felt that way. Loneliness — like depression, with which it can be associated — can chip away at your self-esteem and erode your sense of who you are. That’s what happened to me.
Dr. Vivek Murthy’s candid vulnerability impresses us. It is refreshing for a public servant and it is vital in helping stem the tide of the effects of the pandemic of loneliness that is sweeping the United States – and is manifest across the entire globe today.
Dr. Murthy, now the 21st Surgeon General of the United States, cites that 50% of Americans have or are experiencing “measurable levels” of loneliness, and that nearly everyone experiences loneliness at some point. He warns that there are grave consequences for our mental and physical health, and our collective well-being. He writes that loneliness is more than just a bad feeling. When we are socially disconnected, our risk of anxiety and depression increases, along with our risk of heart disease, dementia, and stroke. He has indicated for years that the increased risk of premature death associated with emotional isolation is comparable to smoking daily and may even be greater than the risk associated with obesity.
Not only all this, but loneliness tears at the fabric of all of our communities, our collective society. The isolation and disconnection we feel leads to decreased productivity at work, worse performance in school, and weakened civil engagement. It polarizes us and has led to the profound fractures that we see in our political culture. Dr. Murthy believes it is killing us and is threatening to pull our country apart. He has a plan to rebuild our social connections and our relationships.
His objective is also the objective of SomeoneTo Tell It To.
Our common work was born because of the relationship that was developed between us as friends. We both have felt the isolation and disconnection of which Dr. Murthy writes and speaks.
We both have felt lonely in work environments that were often toxic and painful, where affirmation and validation were often scarce. We both have felt alone and adrift at times, whether at work, or school, or even in our own homes. We both felt that we had no one or surprisingly few others to whom we could turn safely and completely for understanding, support, or simple purging of our fears and anxieties.
But it was through intentional connecting with one another – listening deeply and non-judgmentally, courageous vulnerability, discovering so many shared values, and being gracious and generous with our affirmation and love, that our relationship was built. All of that led to Someone To Tell It To’s birth to help others find these life-giving relational gifts in their own lives, just as we have in ours.
We applaud the efforts of Dr. Murthy. His leadership, platform, and personal example are tremendous attributes to this cause. He writes that rebuilding our connections to one another is medicine “hiding in plain sight”. It will improve heart health, brain health, and immunity. He asserts that “spending 15 minutes each day to reach out to people we care about, introducing ourselves to our neighbors, checking on co-workers who may be having a hard time, sitting down with people with different views to get to know and understand them, and seeking opportunities to serve others recognizing that helping people is one of the most powerful antidotes to loneliness”.
For me, he writes, it took more than a year of struggling with the pain and shame of loneliness, but I eventually found my footing …During one of my lowest lows, the people in my life patched me up with their acts of love and connection. It is still a work in progress, but years later, in my second tenure in public service (as now the 21st Surgeon General of the United States), I am making a much bigger effort to build and maintain my relationships. I am a better father, husband, friend and surgeon general as a result.
We can all be those better people when we value the power of connection, the beauty of close relationships, and the transformative magic of listening with intention, compassion, and respect. We are committed to this work. We embrace its life-changing, life-saving probabilities. We strive every day to make a difference in this world of loneliness and pain, to alleviate the isolation that lies to us and tells us that we are all alone. We are not alone. No one needs to be all alone. We are made to live in community with one another and to enjoy the wonder of one another’s love and lives.
We thank Dr. Vivek Murthy for his focus on this epidemic. The power of his voice can absolutely make the difference for the tide of loneliness that has been growing for decades here in the United States and across the globe.
Photo by Maxwell Nelson on Unsplash