Oct 10, 2023 - Health

Surgeon General Murthy says rebuilding social connection has to be a "national priority"

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in Hanover, NH. Photo: Katherine Lenhart/Dartmouth.

The issue of mental health is "fundamentally impacting the fabric of society," U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said during a recent event hosted ahead of Tuesday's World Mental Health Day.

Why it matters: Political divisiveness, climate change, COVID, gun violence and social media are among stressors taking a simultaneous toll on mental health, which in turn fuels more harmful behaviors.

State of play: Nearly 40% of Americans rated their mental health as only fair or poor toward the end of last year, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

  • Many workers remain dissatisfied with the way workplace issues, including burnout, are handled by their employers.

What they're saying: "We have become professionals at putting masks on and walking around society ... like everything is going fine," Murthy said during the second-ever gathering of all living former and current U.S. surgeons general at Dartmouth.

  • "But what it betrays is the reality ... that a lot of people are walking around suffering."

Context: Part of the reason people hide their struggles is because culturally, we think "being successful means being independent," said Murthy.

  • But evolution reminds us that the hunter who worked alone got eaten by a predator or starved to death, he added.

The big picture: Murthy has made it a priority to combat loneliness in the U.S. and he sees isolation as key to driving political polarization.

  • "It's hard to hate people up close," he said.
  • "Our connection to one another is a foundation on which we build a healthy society. As that foundation has crumbled and weakened, we've seen that we're suffering across the board. And that's why I really believe that rebuilding social connection in America, the social fabric of our country has to be a national priority."

The intrigue: Stigma around individual mental health leads some people to self medicate, which can lead to substance misuse and create psychosis and other health problems, said Former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams

  • Adams also mused that business moguls including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos could do better at motivating legislators to put funding for "healthier communities" than anyone in his role.

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