Amid loneliness epidemic, Surgeon General guides ASU college students on how to connect
Tempe, Ariz., November 13, 2023 – Loneliness is a dangerous, nationwide epidemic, according to the country’s top doctor, who told a crowd of students at Arizona State University that they must try to create a culture of connectedness to heal.
“We can all do something about it,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who is of Indian descent, during his talk at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus Monday.
“We can do simple things like reaching out and checking on one another. The power of a simple check-in on a friend — texting a friend to say, ‘Hey, I'm just thinking about you to see how you're doing.’ ...
“Or swinging by somebody who might be eating by themselves in the dining hall.” Those actions are small but powerful, he said.
“What you do when you check in on someone is ... you’re telling them, ‘I see you. You have value. You’re not invisible.’
“And that’s important in a world where so many people are feeling invisible.”
Murthy visited ASU as part of his nationwide “We Are Made to Connect Tour” to colleges this fall to talk about loneliness. The ASU visit was his only stop at an Arizona university. In a recent national survey by the American College Health Association, nearly three-quarters of college students reported moderate or severe psychological distress in 2022.
He was at ASU in May as the commencement speaker, where he told the new graduates that it’s important to nourish their relationships. During his term, he has released Surgeon General Advisories on the youth mental health crisis, social media’s impact on youth mental health and the epidemic of loneliness and isolation.
“Loneliness has real consequences for our health,” he told the ASU crowd on Monday, citing increases in the risk for depression, anxiety, physical illness, dementia and suicide.
“The overall mortality rate of social disconnectedness is on par with smoking daily,” he said.
Murthy’s talk was a Q&A format with ASU student Emma Broyles, a biomedical sciences major in Barrett, The Honors College, who served as Miss America 2022. She has frequently talked about her struggles with mental health.
Broyles said she has dealt with diagnoses of ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, and she had a tough time after her term as Miss America ended in December 2022. She took two weeks away from school during the spring semester.
“I experienced a very difficult period of anxiety and depression, to the point where I was experiencing very significant suicide ideation. So, I had to go home to Alaska to be with my family while I started my antidepressants,” she said
When she returned, Broyles was reluctant to describe to her friends and co-workers why she took time away but decided to be open about her period of self-care.
“I was shocked to find that many of them also have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and a couple of them take the same antidepressant I do,” she said.
Murthy said that one way to boost social connection is to put down your phone. This not only helps increase attention while interacting with others, it decreases the time spent on social media.
“If you spend just 10 minutes talking to somebody and put everything else away and give the benefit of your full attention and look into their eyes and listen and respond to what they’re saying, it can feel extraordinarily powerful,” he said.
He said that students should consider taking occasional breaks from social media.
“Social media can dilute the quality of interactions and make you feel like you’re comparing yourself to others online,” he said.
Murthy’s tour of college campuses includes the “5-for-5 Connection Challenge,” in which students are asked to do five acts of connection, such as expressing gratitude or asking for help, over five days. “Write a text or email to the person — it can be a single line — and tell them why you’re thinking of them or grateful. Then turn on your phone flashlight on and hold it up,” he said.
Within moments, the ballroom glowed with hundreds of lights.
“Each of these lights represent a ray of hope, a ray of connection, that went out into the universe,” he said.
“I want you to lead lives of fulfillment and deep joy. That can only happen if we focus on the relationships in our lives.”
Counseling services are available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at no cost at eoss.asu.edu/counseling. To find a student club, organization or activity, students should check out Sun Devil Sync at asu.campuslabs.com/engage. Students who have questions on connecting should email firstname.lastname@example.org.