Wealthy Silicon Valley county becomes first to declare loneliness a public health emergency

  • A Silicon Valley county declared loneliness to be a public health emergency.

  • San Mateo County found that 45% of its residents said they were suffering from loneliness.

  • The county hosts the headquarters of tech giants Facebook and YouTube, and Electronic Arts.

A wealthy Silicon Valley county in California has become the first in the US to declare loneliness a public health emergency.

It comes as global concerns over the physical and mental impacts of isolation continue to rise.

The Board of Supervisors in California's San Mateo County passed a resolution on Tuesday that included a pledge to help citizens connect with each other, NBC News reported.

San Mateo County is one of the wealthiest in the US and is home to the headquarters of many tech giants, including Facebook, YouTube, and Electronic Arts. In Q3 2023, the median cost of a home in the county was $1,573,470.

While the San Mateo resolution does not provide any funding to combat loneliness, it is a sign of a commitment to the cause.

It also validates people's feelings, David Canepa, the vice president of the Board of Supervisors that introduced the legislation, said, per NBC News.

"What we're trying to do is to really get people out of the corners and say, 'Hey, look, there are a lot of people who are feeling like you. You're not alone. And moving forward, here are some of the things that we can do to support you,'" he said.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy last year released a report on the "epidemic of loneliness and isolation" in the US.

In the report, Murthy said that social connection was "a critical and underappreciated contributor to individual and population health, community safety, resilience, and prosperity."

Murthy said that problems associated with loneliness had been building for decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic had compounded it.

He added that loneliness was "associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death" and that the "mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day."

Governments around the world have started to address the issue.

Japan and the UK have appointed ministers for loneliness in recent years, while New York state appointed the US's first honorary loneliness ambassador in November.

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In San Mateo County, Canepa has proposed several ideas to combat the problem, including making neighborhoods more walkable.

He pointed to a county-led survey in 2022 that found that 45% of San Mateo's residents said they were suffering from loneliness and isolation, NBC News reported.

San Mateo County, with over 700,000 residents, in the San Francisco Bay Area, includes part of Silicon Valley. It has a large population of older residents, with 18% of the county's population over 65 — 2% above the state average.

"It's sort of a perfect storm for older adults right now," Jennifer Steele, CEO of Meals on Wheels San Francisco, which delivers hot meals to older citizens in northern San Mateo County, told NBC News.

"People don't live close to their loved ones anymore," she said. "Sometimes people have outlived their loved ones in some cases. Your social circle shrinks after retirement. It's harder for people to make friends."

But Canepa is worried that the problem is not exclusive to older generations.

He said that teenagers and young adults in the county could also be at risk, partly due to the widespread use of social media and partly because of the high-pressure environment of Silicon Valley.

Canepa said the resolution was just the first step towards finding a solution to the problem.

"What we want to do is build on that. But we can't build on it if we don't make the investments," he said, per ABC7.

Read the original article on Business Insider