How We Can Overcome Loneliness
Creating a path to a less lonely world.
Loneliness is a global health issue that can profoundly impair mental and physical health.
Combating loneliness requires solutions at all levels, from individual to international.
Just as our culture has embraced mental health, we should have honest conversations about loneliness.
On Kill Bill, SZA sang that she’d “rather be in jail than alone.” As an emotional alarm signal motivating us to focus on connection, loneliness is core to our human psychology and biology.
In small doses, loneliness is a valuable reminder that our relationships are our greatest sources of joy, support, and meaning. But when it becomes severe and chronic, loneliness can feel all-consuming.
Beyond a personal struggle, loneliness is now recognized as a global health issue capable of profoundly impairing mental and physical health across the lifespan. With leaders in science and politics calling for a society-wide fight against loneliness, efforts to support connection are gaining traction amid growing scientific evidence.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently released an advisory on loneliness in the United States, advocating for a comprehensive restructuring of American life to prioritize connection and belonging. In the New York Times, Murthy said, "If we truly want to be healthy, happy and fulfilled as a society, we have to restructure our lives around people. Right now, our lives are centered around work."
Combating loneliness will require solutions from the individual level to the international. As awareness of loneliness’ societal costs grows, government policymakers are beginning to reconsider how social policies across the realms of housing, employment, welfare benefits, and infrastructure could support social relationships and community-building. More and more workplaces are looking to foster company cultures that prize kindness, generosity, and sharing among employees. And popular media creators are exploring their role in shifting cultural conversations about loneliness.
Moving Past Stigma
The first step in addressing loneliness is challenging its pervasive stigma—the idea that loneliness is not only a feeling but an immutable mark of communal rejection. When lonely people come to believe their loneliness reflects a personal inadequacy, they may give up on working to overcome it. Likewise, when others believe that lonely people could be social burdens whose ostracism is deserved and even contagious, they might hesitate to lend a helping hand.
Just as our culture has grown more accepting of mental health struggles in recent decades, we can shift our preconceptions about loneliness for the better. The first step is to break down the taboo of talking about loneliness. By rejecting stigmatizing narratives, we gain breathing room to explore more productive solutions.
Speaking up about personal struggles with loneliness takes bravery, but saying nothing only reinforces its stigma. When SZA expressed her feelings in Kill Bill, she risked judgment to open up an honest discussion. Our cultural silence about loneliness belies the fact that we can do so much about it.
What can we do to help ourselves and those around us deal with loneliness? The current movement to address global loneliness has exciting potential to improve lives, yet these systemic changes are just one part of overcoming loneliness.
Loneliness is still in many ways a highly personal challenge, so overcoming it often requires individual effort. Fortunately, as I discuss in part 2 of this piece, a wide range of effective approaches exist, each with distinct benefits.
Benji Kaveladze, Ph.D., - Website -
Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of behavioral medicine, 40(2), 218-227.
Hickin, N., Käll, A., Shafran, R., Sutcliffe, S., Manzotti, G., & Langan, D. (2021). The effectiveness of psychological interventions for loneliness: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 88, 102066.
Murthy, & The Office of the Surgeon General. (2023). Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation: The US Surgeon General’s advisory on the healing effects of social connection and community.