San Mateo Co. launches campaign to combat growing loneliness epidemic

Zach Fuentes Image
Sunday, March 17, 2024
San Mateo Co. launches campaign to combat loneliness crisis
San Mateo County launched its "Are You Lonely" campaign to combat the growing loneliness epidemic it earlier declared as a public emergency.

SAN MATEO COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Loneliness has become an epidemic so much so, that last year the Surgeon General called it a public health crisis.

Nearly one in four adults report feeling lonely, and it's one in three if you're over 45.

San Mateo County is at the forefront of this issue, last month declaring loneliness a public health emergency, and Friday county leaders launched a new campaign for help.

"Loneliness isn't just a word. It's a real physical and mental health issue," said Taylor Jay, a co-founder of the Wyzr Friends App.

MORE: San Mateo County becomes 1st in US to declare loneliness as health emergency

Many don't have the social connection experts say can be vital to our overall health.

Jay and Carolyn Kelly say that social isolation is especially difficult for adults over 40.

That's why they created this app called Wyzr Friends.

"So people can really connect when you get a little bit older," Kelly said. "You might be an empty nester or retired, or new to town, and we thought it would be fun and easy."

MORE: US surgeon general highlights importance of human connections during SF visit

Launched in mid-January, the app comes as the U.S. and governments from around the world recognize the loneliness epidemic.

The problem is so bad that last year, the surgeon general declared loneliness a public health crisis.

"This is a problem that has been building for decades in our country," said Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general. "COVID certainly worsened it, poured fuel on the fire, but that fire was burning before."

In January, San Mateo County became the first in the U.S. to recognize loneliness as a public health emergency.

MORE: Seniors using AI robots to combat loneliness

Supervisor David Canepa introduced the resolution that was voted on unanimously.

On Friday, he announced the launch of the "Are You Lonely?" campaign and a call for the county to help fund it.

"We passed loneliness as being a public health crisis (but) words only means so much," Canepa said. "Now we need the investments in action. Whether it's peer help, whether it's a social media campaign."

Canepa says he hopes any data they'd get from the campaign could be used to bring to the state in hopes that it would establish an office of loneliness.

MORE: Teen mental health: CDC report reveals disturbing pandemic-related trends

"Give us two years," he said. "And don't be surprised if we have an office in the state of California, dealing with loneliness."

Right now the campaign has partners in UCSF, local nonprofit Peninsula Family Service, and Wzyr Friends.

A collaboration they all hope leads to positive changes as more recognize the severity of this epidemic.

"We're always worried about our physical health, but never our mental health," Canepa said. "I'm hoping that we're able to make some severe changes, and to change this paradigm of suffering and silence."

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