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Last month, we were all introduced to a new concept…“social distancing.” Urged, and even required in places, to maintain physical distance and reduce close contact with other people, our collective goal has been to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep it from overwhelming our health care system.
There’s a very real problem with this strategy, however. While social distancing may be the best way to fight the coronavirus, it may very well exacerbate an already existing epidemic: loneliness.
As former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy put it, “We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.”
The health impact of this loneliness epidemic is incredible. According to Murthy, “the impact of social isolation and loneliness on longevity equals that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and exceeds the risks associated with obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of exercise.”
A recent report from the National Academy of Science found that “social isolation has been linked to a 50 percent increased risk of dementia, a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke.”
To put it plainly, loneliness can be just as lethal, maybe more so, than COVID-19, at least over the long run.
A group that should be at the front of our concerns when it comes to loneliness and its impact are the elderly. According to one study, “some 18 percent of adults age 65 and older in the U.S. live alone, and 43 percent report feeling lonely on a regular basis.”
Still, the loneliness epidemic isn’t limited to older Americans. A 2019 YouGov survey found that “27 percent of millennials have no close friends, 25 percent have no ‘acquaintances’ and 22 percent . . . have no buddies at all.”
In fact, Generation Z may be the loneliest generation on record. According to a 2018 Cigna survey, those born in 1995 or later report greater feelings of loneliness and worse health than any other generation. If social media could make up for the lack of actual human contact, as we were promised, the generation most at ease with social media isn’t showing it. Apparently, “digital natives” are lonelier than the Baby Boomers they love to turn into memes.
And again, all of this was true before social distancing went into effect. So, during the next few months, the face-to-face activities that build relationships and keep loneliness at bay will be difficult; in some cases impossible.
Months ago, we decided to host an online Short Course on “How Christians can Respond to our Culture’s Brokenness.” We had no idea at the time that we’d be facing a global pandemic. So, on Tuesday, we hosted a webinar with Ed Stetzer on how Christians can respond to the coronavirus. If you missed it, come to BreakPoint.org to see the recording.
The short course starts next Tuesday, and in our first of four sessions, we deal with this “other” pandemic. Dr. Kathy Koch, president of Celebrate Kids, will talk about how Christians can respond to “Loneliness, Isolation, and Relational Brokenness” (in other words, our other pandemic). Koch has written and spoken about how Christian parents can teach their kids who they are, and how to help them navigate the social norms that so often isolate them. She’s exactly the one to help us respond to the loneliness epidemic.
I hope you will join us next Tuesday, April 8, at 8 PM Eastern. You can register here. And then, on the three following Tuesdays, we will confront other areas of brokenness. Ricky Chelette, Executive Director of Living Hope Ministries, will talk about how Christians can respond to the “Sexually Broken.” C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University, will talk about how Christians can lead in “End of Life Care,” and then David Galvan, Director of Education for a Lifetime, will talk about “Mental Health and Addiction.”
All Short Course sessions are recorded, so you won’t miss a single presentation.
A Short Course with Ed Stetzer, Kathy Koch, Ricky Chelette, Ben Mitchell, and David Galvan
John Stonestreet & David Carlson | BreakPoint | March 30, 2020
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