One month ago, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy made a rather unusual advisory by calling out loneliness as a public health threat. 

The advisory, which pinpointed social isolation and disconnect as being drivers of poor physical and mental health, has sparked a conversation among lawmakers about implementing policy changes to address the issue.

The Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness, an advocacy organization, hosted a Connections at the Capitol event Tuesday evening featuring Sen. Chris Murphy, (D-Conn.) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), to discuss the latest congressional efforts to combat social isolation.

Murphy acknowledged the severity of the problem, differentiating it as a “health and metaphysical issue” rather than a political football. 

“We need to have a more purposeful public policy to try to provide people with easy opportunities to create community,” he said.

While loneliness has often been seen as an individual problem, Murphy noted that certain societal or public policy changes could help ease isolation. Firstly, he said people simply need more free time, adding that changes to work structures might be beneficial.

“Part of the reason why there aren’t as many churches, youth sports or social clubs is that people just don’t have as much free time,” Murphy explained. “Part of our strategy to attack loneliness is giving people the ability to stretch their legs, leave work and enjoy their communities. Paying people more, allowing them to only have one job and leave work at 5 p.m. – that’s part of combating loneliness.”

Murphy pinpointed social media and screen “addiction” as the next biggest culprit, noting that young people are especially vulnerable. This sentiment has already been underscored by others in the public health sphere as Murthy recently announced that social media can be damaging to young people’s mental health.

Why exactly social media can cause isolation is hard to define. Kier Gaines, a therapist and mental health advocate, pointed out it seems counterintuitive that technology that can connect us to more people than ever before in the history of time can simultaneously be so isolating.

“It’s like being stranded at sea and dying of thirst,” Gaines explained. “All of that water and not a single drop of it is drinkable. That’s because isolation is not a quantitative issue; it’s a qualitative issue.”


Meanwhile, Murphy blamed smartphones and social media, arguing these devices actually hinder the process of seeking connection in real life. 

“Part of the ritual of being a young person is the ritual of discovery,” he said. “So much of that ritual relies on you having actual conversations and rituals with other people who are having that same exploration. 

He argued that part of the solution in attacking loneliness is a regulation of a product that’s “making us more alone.”

Recently, Murphy introduced bipartisan legislation that would set a minimum age limit of 13 years old on social media. The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act would also require parental consent for kids aged 13 to 17. 

The bill would also take aim at algorithms – what Murphy noted in a statement were “dangerous online rabbit holes” – preventing social media companies from feeding algorithms to kids under 18 years old.

Recently, social media platforms have begun implementing some rules to help limit the time spent on the apps among young people. In March, TikTok announced it would now have a default one-hour time limit on the app for users under the age of 18.

Pinterest also recently launched a campaign, Don’t Don’t Yourself, taking aim at the idea of doomscrolling and the negative mental health effects from social media.