Loneliness Kills, Social Connections HealBy Ed Mervine
“The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.”
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an advisory on May 3, 2023, that addresses the epidemic of loneliness and isolation currently causing chaos and negatively impacting the health of our nation, its people, and its institutions. A Surgeon General advisory is a call to action. Past advisories rallied national resources and efforts to combat tobacco use, obesity, and addiction.
In the May advisory, the Surgeon General concludes that loneliness “is far more than just a bad feeling—it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. …The harmful consequences of a society that lacks social connection can be felt in our schools, workplaces, and civic organizations, where performance, productivity, and engagement are diminished.”
The Village to Village movement, which includes the Pasadena Village, predates the Surgeon General’s advisory and anticipated many of the advisory’s findings, recommendations, and goals.
The Village to Village movement is a response from our generation to the societal changes that created the dehumanizing and terrifying environment that confronts many, if not most, of us in the later stages of our lives. Challenged by a system that isolates and infantilizes older people, a healthcare industry that efficiently warehouses but is largely devoid of social connection, meaning or purpose, and a society focused on youth and economic growth, we decided to do it ourselves and thus the Village was born. The lives of those of us who became Villagers changed. Many of us found a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Life is more fun. It’s more meaningful, more fulfilling, and more purposeful.
Listen to the voices of Pasadena Villagers talk about what the Village means to them. Purnima Barve recently joined the Village and immediately experienced a health problem in a community where she knew no one. “I feel awful,” she says, “for having been clumsy to fall: however, at the same time, I feel grateful that I fell in a place where I was surrounded by such a wonderful compassionate group of people.” Read her note here that expresses gratitude for the welcoming attitude of the Village and what it means when you are experiencing the difficulties that arise all too frequently in life. Valerie Jones, a single woman, states, “I have yet to meet an unfriendly neighbor in the Village.” Val provides an excellent description of the richness and variety of life in the Village and what that can mean to someone moving into a new community or connecting to more activity in their existing community. Their words are a clear endorsement of how the Pasadena Village’s commitment to self-governance and mutual support creates healthy communities, mends social disconnection and ends isolation.
The fact that the Village positively affects our health and adds months, if not years, to our lives seems obvious. That Villagers also have much to contribute to “a movement to mend the social fabric of our nation” (Surgeon General’s Advisory) also seems obvious. Our generation is not finished yet. How we respond to the loneliness epidemic will be part of our legacy to our children and grandchildren. We can choose to leave an example of how to create healthier communities and how life can be richer and more fulfilling.
More research and impact
Watch this space in future editions of the Voice of the Village for further discussions concerning the Pasadena Village formula for restoring the health of isolated individuals and disconnected communities. We will also explore the impact the Village movement is having statewide and nationwide.
For example, we joined with Rutgers University, the Rand Corporation and the Village Network to collaboratively develop aging research. The purpose of this collaboration is the design of research “comparing the relative effectiveness of interventions that promote healthy outcomes of greatest importance to the people participating in the research.” ( Engaging Villages as Key Partners for Healthy Aging Research) We will also discuss efforts through Village Movement California, an organization focused more locally on the environment in our state and working to make improvements for the aging population here.
We are actively creating the world we would like to inhabit.