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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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Adelin Preda on Unsplash

A multinational study found that bystanders intervene in 9 out of 10 public conflicts.

The recent news report of a woman on a Philadelphia train being raped while onlookers did nothing to stop it was shocking and horrible, without question. It also got people discussing the infamous "bystander effect," which has led people to believe—somewhat erroneously, as it turns out—that people aren't likely to intervene when they see someone being attacked in public. Stories like this uninterrupted train assault combined with a belief that bystanders rarely step in can easily lead people to feel like everything and everyone is horrible.

But according to the most recent research on the subject, the Philadelphia incident appears to be the exception, not the rule. A 2019 multinational study found that at least one bystander (but usually more) will actually intervene in 9 out of 10 public conflicts.

The idea that people in groups aren't likely to intervene stems largely from research on the 1964 story of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death outside her apartment in New York, while dozens of onlookers in surrounding apartment buildings allegedly did nothing. However, further research has called the number of witnesses into question, and it appears that several did, in fact, call the police. Someone reportedly shouted out their window and scared the attacker away for a few minutes, and someone did rush to Genovese's aid after the second attack.

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