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New APA Poll: One in Three Americans Feels Lonely Every Week

  • January 30, 2024

Washington, DC (Jan. 30, 2024) - In May 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., called loneliness a public health epidemic. The latest Healthy Minds Monthly Poll from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) finds that, early in 2024, 30% of adults say they have experienced feelings of loneliness at least once a week over the past year, while 10% say they are lonely every day. Younger people were more likely to experience these feelings, with 30% of Americans aged 18-34 saying they were lonely every day or several times a week, and single adults are nearly twice as likely as married adults to say they have been lonely on a weekly basis over the past year (39% vs. 22%).

When asked about a change in their level of loneliness since before COVID, 43% of American adults said their levels of loneliness had not changed, 25% said they were lonelier, and 23% felt less lonely. Most saw a positive role for technology in social connections; most Americans agreed that technology “helps me form new relationships” (66%), “helps me connect with others more frequently” (75%), and “is beneficial for forming and maintaining relationships” (69%). However, adults are split on whether technology fosters “meaningful (54%)” or “superficial (46%)” relationships.

The poll was fielded Jan. 10-12, 2024, among 2,200 adults by Morning Consult, and used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s definition of loneliness: “feeling like you do not have meaningful or close relationships or a sense of belonging.”

“The Healthy Minds Monthly poll confirms loneliness is widespread, especially in young people,” said APA President Petros Levounis, M.D., M.A. “The U.S. Surgeon General is correct to label it as a public health problem with troubling outcomes and to suggest steps communities can take. Doctors and other clinicians can make a major difference in their patients' wellbeing and physical health when they ask about loneliness and how to mitigate its effects. Helping people feel less lonely is straightforward and deeply gratifying."

When Americans feel lonely, they report easing these feelings through many different means (selected from a list of choices):

  • 50% find a distraction (like TV, podcasts or social media)
  • 41% go for a walk
  • 38% reach out to friends or family
  • 31% connect to a pet
  • 31% exercise
  • 26% eat more than usual
  • 13% use drugs or alcohol
  • 9% connect to a therapist or counselor
  • 6% volunteer

Notably, younger adults are more likely than older adults to say they use drugs or alcohol when feeling lonely. Females are 1.5 times more likely than males to say they reach out to a friend or family member.

Selecting among several options, Americans ranked the top three areas where they felt the highest sense of community and belonging as among their family (65%), among their friends (53%), and in their neighborhoods (20%). Online communities and discussion forums were among the least likely to be selected (3%), along with sports and recreational teams (4%) and the gym or fitness classes (5%). Responses to many options hovered toward the middle (full details are available in the report) with social media selected by 16% of individuals as a place where they feel a high sense of belonging and social connection, and 17% listing work as such.

“Clearly we believe technology can be used to connect with others,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “In some cases, it seems to be helping us reach people who become part of our inner circles or to communicate with those who already are. However, distracting yourself when you’re feeling lonely with social media might be a double-edged sword: while it can connect, it can also lead to feelings of missing out, and we need to make sure we remain conscious of its effects on our mood. In this tech-heavy world, we should not forget the value of in-person interaction.”

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 38,000 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses. APA's vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information, please visit www.psychiatry.org.

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