Research shows that people are lonelier than ever — but hopeful solutions are happening.

Loneliness is becoming a public health issue.

We live in a time when we're more connected than ever, and yet a recent survey found that most Americans could be classified as lonely — feeling out of step with the world, not creating meaningful relationships, and seeing themselves as disconnected, even when they're with others. That same survey showed that young Americans may be the most lonely demographic. And that's a problem.

Social isolation comes with health concerns, both physical and mental. According to a 2010 study, loneliness could be just as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it can be a factor in the development of depression, and it can hasten cognitive decline due to a lack of intellectual stimulation.


Now that the problem's been recognized, solutions are coming fast.

Of course, feeling lonely is normal some of the time, just as it's normal to feel anxious or have a low mood once in a while. It's when it becomes prolonged that loneliness is an issue. Transforming loneliness takes perseverance, but there's evidence that isolation doesn't have to be a permanent condition.

In large cities  — where one can feel lost even in a crowd — co-working and co-living facilities have become increasingly common.

If you're someone who works from home, you already understand both the ecstasy and the agony of the position (no pants, ever, but also no one to talk to). That's why co-working is so ideal. The space doesn't just give one a space to work, it puts people into contact with one another, allowing them to create small communities where they can bounce ideas off each other, vent, and create friendships that extend beyond happy hour.

Co-living spaces, while not as ubiquitous, also offer a solution to loneliness. They allow like-minded people to live together, work together, and form strong bonds. Unlike traditional roommate situations, this isn't just about a few people sharing the rent — it's also about schedules, interests, and personalities. This ensures that people aren't merely living together; they're forming a cohesive bond for residents that hopefully will last even after they've left the space.

Humans need connection to thrive. Sometimes the best way is through helping others.

A recent study, for example, found that volunteering 100 hours a year (or two hours a week) can have health benefits, especially after experiencing a loss. When researchers studied older people who had lost a spouse, they found that those who made volunteering a regular part of their routine were able to bounce back more quickly. Volunteering has also been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. And researchers have suggested that this can work for all groups of people.

All this means greater hope for the future.

It's no surprise that former surgeon general Vivek Murthy cited loneliness as an "epidemic" that needs to be treated on a large scale. Part of that treatment is knowledge, and as society becomes more and more aware that loneliness can have painful consequences, it's important for us to work harder to make connections. The people we spend our time with don't just enrich our lives. They could be making them longer too.

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Prior to European colonization of North America, millions of bison roamed the Great Plains. By the turn of the 20th century, those numbers had dropped to less than 1,000. The deliberate decimation of buffalo herds was a direct attack on the Native American people, who colonizers saw as an obstacle to their "Manifest Destiny," and who the U.S. government engaged in a systematic attempt to eliminate or force into docile submission.

For thousands of years, bison were a sacred, inseparable part of life for Indigenous tribes of the Great Plains, used for food, shelter, utensils, and clothing, in addition to spiritual and emotional well-being. Wiping out the bison population nearly wiped out the Native tribes they were connected to.

Though bison numbers have increased significantly thanks to conservation efforts, governments are still grappling with the ugly legacy, and some municipalities are taking steps to try to repair some of the damage done. As one example, the city of Denver, Colorado has taken the step of giving some of the city's bison population managed by Denver Parks and Recreation to Native American tribes engaged in bison conservation efforts.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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