The coronavirus pandemic does not exhaust the tragedy itself. It happens that, paradoxically, it is covering, but at the same time aggravating, other public health problems that specialists had warned about for a long time and that, with covid-19, are rebounding without sufficient means to attend them. The educational gap between rich and poor families; obesity, caused by the lack of physical exercise in confinements; the addiction to screens; mental problems; and loneliness. The doctor Vivek H. Murthy reflects on this last aspect in the book ‘Juntos’, published in Spain by the publishing house ‘Crítica’.
Murthy is the “doctor of the United States”, an expression by which the country’s surgeon general is symbolically known. He held that position during the Obama administration and will now do so again with Joe Biden. From this position, Murthy responded to Ebola, Zika or the opioid crisis, and from there he also discovered a silent epidemic, never better used the adjective, that is hitting the world and that COVID-19 has taken to its maximum expression : the epidemic of loneliness.
For years, Murthy toured his country to learn about public health problems. And he discovered that loneliness emerged in all of them. For example, he learned of the case of parents in Oklahoma who had lost a child to drugs and who, after the event, were abandoned by the community network, their friends and neighbors. «In some cases, loneliness favored health problems. In others, it was a consequence of the illness and hardships that were being experienced. It was not always easy to differentiate cause and effect, but there was no doubt that the lack of interpersonal connection was what made those lives harder than they should have been, ”Murthy writes in ‘Together’.
The book is a deep analysis of the causes that have made the most technological society with the best means of transportation in history, in which it also suffers more loneliness than ever. In a simple way, Murthy explains that advances in everyday comfort (being able to order food at home at any time, having movie premieres at home, buying everything online, teleworking) are reducing at the same time the number of activities for which contact with other people was required. “The human connection is disappearing or, hopefully, moving to a marginal position,” he stresses. And the consequences of this are enormous: from losing friends to ceasing to participate in social activities in the neighborhood or in the city, with the impoverishment in the medium and long term that this implies.
Covid-19, which has made everything worse, has especially aggravated the problem of loneliness. The need to maintain a physical distance from other people to avoid contagion has resulted in an abandonment of social relationships, something to which psychologists and psychiatrists, who advise their patients to increase their social life, blame the rise of the mental diseases.
But all is not lost, says Murthy in the book, which proposes some simple, concrete and effective solutions: dedicate at least 15 minutes a day to have a videoconference with family members and closest friends; Eliminate distractions when interacting with others (ie, only be aware of people, give away attention, maintain eye contact); when you have to be alone, explore creativity, connect with nature, meditate, listen to music …; and finally, to help and to be helped. “Serving others, being useful to others, is a form of human connection that reminds us that we are valuable and our life has a purpose. Giving and receiving – both things – strengthen our social ties. Going to check that a neighbor is okay, asking for an opinion or advice, even the simple act of smiling at a stranger from a distance, are things that make us stronger “, stresses Vivek H. Murthy.