US Surgeon General encourages students to combat loneliness with social connection

21 March 2024

This week welcomed Vice Admiral Dr Vivek Murthy, the US Surgeon General, for a special discussion about the importance of relationships in maintaining wellbeing at university.

US Surgeon General  visits

Dr Murthy was joined by the Students’ Union President Mary McHarg for a ‘fireside chat’ where she asked Dr Murthy about topics such as mental health stigma, the university experience, and social media.

Originally born in Yorkshire but raised in Florida, Dr Murthy is the US government’s top advisor on health and wellbeing. He has served as both the 19th and 21st US Surgeon General and was co-chair of President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 Advisory Board.

Throughout his career, Dr Murthy has been passionate about addressing the youth mental health crisis, the loneliness and isolation epidemic, and tackling burnout among health professionals.

In ’s Sir David Davies Lecture Theatre, Dr Murthy began the discussion by framing social and emotional health as intrinsically linked to physical health.

Dr Murthy said: “Our connections to each other are more than just a nice thing to have, something that makes us feel good. They’re vital to our survival”.

He spoke about why he sees the mental health crisis as the defining public health challenge of our time and about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental resilience of young people.

On student and youth mental health, the Surgeon General stressed the importance of addressing the root causes of loneliness and isolation.

“One university in the US recently told me that in the last 10 years they have tripled the number of mental health councillors they have. That’s a big deal! And you know what happened to the wait times? Nothing. Because demand also increased three-fold during that time.”

On social media Dr Murthy repeated his call for better safety standards to limit features that manipulate users into excessive use, to limit exposure to harmful content and to protect people from the worst effects of social media.

He also advised the audience to protect key areas of their lives, from their study time to their sleep, from the influence of technology.

“I think we should be really proactive about re-negotiating the relationship we have with social media. Because something is commonly done, because it seems to be the norm now, does not necessarily mean it’s good for us.”

As the floor opened up to audience questions, the Surgeon General was asked about support for children’s mental health within schools and the barriers to building social relationships among students.

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Media contact

Sophie Hunter

sophie.hunter [at] ucl.ac.uk