Whether an introvert or extrovert, you as a human were designed as a social creature. Just as our human ancestors needed their tribe for survival, we need to have relationships in order to survive and thrive today. In this digital age, however, people are becoming increasingly more isolated and loneliness is on the rise. What may surprise you is that loneliness is becoming recognized as a threat to public health.

Dr. Julianna Holt-Lunstad presented that loneliness is connected to premature death at the 2017 Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. This shortening in lifespan is greater than that caused by obesity and is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! In addition to negatively impacting mental health, Holt-Lunstad also found that loneliness can negatively impact physical health by making you more likely to experience worse symptoms when sick. According to former U.S. Surgeon Dr. Vivek Murthy, loneliness is connected to depression, anxiety, heart disease and dementia. Murthy said he thinks

Of loneliness as an epidemic because it affects a great number of people in our country but also because one person’s loneliness can have an impact on another person.

With over 9 million people reporting feeling lonely, Britain has decided to take action by appointing Tracey Crouch as the Minister for Loneliness on January 17. The goal is to establish policies and to develop opportunities to help prevent loneliness. Progress!

While the U.S. may still be behind the trend, we as individuals can start to work to make a difference. Consider reaching out to those in your community who may be at risk for loneliness. Elderly individuals are especially at risk. According to the British government, 200,000 elderly individuals in Britain were found to not have had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.

So give your grandparents a call! Consider visiting a nursing or assisted care facility to spend time with elderly individuals who might not get many visitors. Consider joining the student sitting alone for lunch or to study. You never know, you might make some great new friends!

If you’re feeling lonely, I hope this article will inspire you to go out and seek others. Know that you’re not alone in this feeling. So as Rita Ora sings, “Let’s be lonely together.”