SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) –Widespread loneliness poses health risks as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

That’s according to the U.S. surgeon general. Dr. Vivek Murthy declared loneliness as the latest public health epidemic. Half of adults say they’ve experienced loneliness. The crisis exploded when COVID-19 spread, prompting schools and workplaces to shut down and isolating people at home away from relatives or friends.

The report says we spend about 20 minutes a day with friends. Twenty years ago, it was an hour. The loneliness epidemic is hitting young people, ages 15 to 24, especially hard. A Sioux falls psychologist says face-to-face contact is the key.

“Getting them out of their home, going to dinner with them taking them to the park, taking them to church doing things with them,” Wallace Jackmon said.

Why is face-to-face so important?

“For one, if we use this phone, people can get kind of distracted,” said Jackmon.

Loneliness can go beyond depression and anxiety. It can also morph into physical ailments. Those with poor social relationships have a greater risk of stroke and heart disease.

“Some people are happy that they are working from home they don’t have to drive in and go to the office but conversely that increases the risk of many of the factors that the surgeon general referred to, health related problems, anxiety, depression obesity — it’s a fairly long laundry list so people that are working from home and are more socially isolated, they have to make more of a concerted effort in getting out of their home and spending time around other people,” Jackmon said.

No one wants to be lonely, but it can build up over time, according to Jackmon.

“The key is just reaching out and getting help and then receiving that help.”

Avera Behavioral Health provides 24-hour Urgent Care for walk-in patients in Sioux Falls
They also have a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-691-4336. The Helpline Center also has people waiting to talk. Simply dial 9-8-8.