Since the first surgeon general was sworn into office in the 19th century, the Office of the Surgeon General has positioned itself as the leading voice on public health matters in the United States. In recent history, the office has had its highest profile campaigns rallying against issues such as tobacco use, obesity, and HIV/AIDS. Considering the combination of prevalence, morbidity, and mortality associated with these health issues, there is no doubt that any effort to stem the tide was a worthwhile endeavor.

When Dr. Vivek Murthy became the surgeon general in 2014, his office continued the historical campaigns against these health issues. At the same time, Dr. Murthy began investigating a looming epidemic within our borders: loneliness and social isolation.

It may be hard to convince the average person that loneliness is a problem of similar scale as tobacco use, obesity, or AIDS. There is no question that loneliness is unpleasant, even if it only lasts for a few moments. But the notion that one’s state of mind can predispose to disease or premature death somehow feels like a stretch. Addressing this skepticism, Dr. Murthy writes in his book about Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University who also faced a great deal of cynicism surrounding her research into the effect of social relationships on “everything from our behavior to our cellular function.” She had a breakthrough in 2010 when she published a massive study analyzing the health outcomes of over 300,000 participants, categorized by their degree of social connectedness. She found that social isolation was significantly linked to premature death, representing a risk nearly as serious as pack-per-day smoking, and more serious than obesity, alcohol use, and lack of exercise. Dr. Holt-Lunstad’s research spurred further studies which linked loneliness to heart disease, stroke, and depression, amongst other diseases.

These findings are hard to ignore, especially in light of the ongoing opioid addiction crisis and rises in teenage depression and suicide, all of which have been linked to loneliness and social isolation. In Together, Dr. Murthy weaves together scientific research, personal anecdotes, and current events to create a manifesto for tackling the next great public health crisis.


Though the more contemporary issues of the opioid addiction crisis and social-media-fueled teenage depression suggest that loneliness is a recent problem, the proverbial writing has been on the wall for decades. In Together, Dr. Murthy references a book called Bowling Alone, written by Robert Putnam, a prominent political scientist. Bowling Alone is considered a seminal work, which establishes a disturbing trend since the 1970s of fracturing American communities and social isolation. Moreover, Putnam enumerates the many ways in which this fracturing has negatively impacted our education, safety, economic prosperity, and yes – even our health. Putnam’s findings contextualize the observations in Dr. Murthy’s book; whereas Bowling Alone demonstrates that social isolation is not a new phenomenon, Together makes the case that this process is accelerating, and its effects are becoming even more visible.

Dr. Murthy’s Together was coincidentally released at a timely moment in world history. As the book hit stores in April 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic had already begun wreaking havoc worldwide, with especially devastating results in the United States. The ensuing economic upheaval and state-mandated social isolation have only further exacerbated the issues that Dr. Murthy has described. Though President Trump may have been speaking off the cuff when he remarked in a Fox News town hall that the U.S. would “have suicides by the thousands,” it is hard to deny that the nation’s already fragile mental health has likely taken a step back as a result of the pandemic.

Dr. Murthy has made his mark as surgeon general by shining a spotlight on the long-standing issue of social isolation and loneliness, one that has not been adequately addressed at any level up until this point. Though the timeline of change that Dr. Murthy prescribes in Together will long outlive his term in office, he has laid the groundwork for our country to begin repairing the bonds that hold our bodies, minds, and communities together.

Primary Source

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World



Place Published

New York, NY

Page Count