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San Mateo County first in nation to declare Loneliness a Public Health Emergency







Graphic courtesy of Tonga Victoria

In a groundbreaking move, San Mateo County became the first county in the United States to address the pressing issue of loneliness as a public health emergency. The county's declaration of loneliness as a major public health concern was passed unanimously by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on January 30, 2024.



As the author of the declaration, David J. Canepa, who is the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Vice President, said,”Many people are suffering alone in silence and there’s no cure for it.”  “ there are ways we all can make a difference by extending love, support and real help to our neighbors, older adults and families before loneliness does become a crisis and leads to horrible outcomes such as suicide.

Recent data from a Meta-Gallup survey shed light on the pervasive nature of loneliness globally. San Mateo County, however, stands out with a staggering 45% of its population reported to be grappling with loneliness, a statistic that surpasses the national average.


This epidemic disproportionately affects both older adults and teenagers, an often-overlooked demographic in discussions surrounding loneliness. Research underscores the severity of the issue, revealing significant correlations between loneliness and various mental and physical health challenges.


Conditions such as depression, alcohol abuse, personality disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular diseases have all been linked to the experience of loneliness. Dr. Andrea Zorbas, who is a clinical psychologist at the University of San Francisco, emphasized the intricate connection between mental and physical health, indicating that the toll of loneliness on mental well-being can manifest in physical health deterioration.


Notably, the loneliness epidemic in San Mateo County does not discriminate based on age, impacting both older adults and teenagers. This revelation challenges common misconceptions about loneliness primarily affecting one age group and it  emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach that considers the diverse demographic affected by this silent crisis.


The groundbreaking move by San Mateo County not only acknowledges the negative impact of loneliness on individuals, but it also signals a commitment to fostering a sense of community and connection. The declaration opens the door for innovative solutions, including community engagement programs, mental health initiatives, and support networks that can contribute to alleviating the loneliness epidemic.


As San Mateo County leads the way in addressing loneliness as a public health emergency, some hope that this bold initiative will inspire other counties and communities across the United States to recognize and prioritize the well-being of their residents.


According to Canepa, “While there is no cure [for loneliness], there are ways we all can make a difference by extending love, support and real help to our neighbors, older adults and families before loneliness does become a crisis and leads to horrible outcomes such as suicide.here are ways we all can make a difference by extending love, support and real help to our neighbors, older adults and families before loneliness does become a crisis and leads to horrible outcomes such as suicide.


There are those, like Canepa, who think that communities can work towards building a healthier and more connected society for everyone by collectively tackling the loneliness epidemic.

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