The Staggering Pandemic of Loneliness

September 13, 2021

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Tragically, there are over 47,000 suicide deaths and over 1.3 million attempts each year in the U.S. alone. Since the 2000s began, Americans have been dying from suicide, alcohol-related illnesses, and drug overdoses at an unprecedented rate. These so-called “Deaths of Despair” are now the second leading cause of death for American teenagers and the tenth leading cause of death for Americans overall. In half of U.S. states since 1999 the suicide rate has increased by more than 30 percent.

In more tragic news, drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans fifty and under. Since 2015, our nation’s average life expectancy has been steadily declining. This points to the fact that American despair is outpacing our medical and technological advances. In 2017 alone, approximately 47,000 Americans committed suicide, and over 70,000 individuals died of a drug overdose. To understand these numbers, 40,000 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents during that same year. Only 58,000 U.S. soldiers died in the entire Vietnam War.

The reality is devastating. Researchers say we are collectively having less sex and fewer children than previous generations — another sign of diminished hope. We seem to be materially successful, but psychologically and spiritually we are off the rails. We are careening self-destructively. We have lost community and we are desperately lonely.

Most of us will experience loneliness at some point in life. Loneliness is the absence of meaningful relationships. Americans have doubled in reporting loneliness since 1980, with one fifth of Americans saying they have no one to talk to when going through a hard time. The Surgeon General actually declared our collective loneliness a public health crisis. If loneliness becomes persistent, it can pose a significant risk to our health and wellbeing. Not every young person feeling lonely will be suicidal, and loneliness won’t always play a role in someone’s decision to take their own life. But having said that, there is a definite connection between suicide and loneliness. Psychologists and medical caregivers tell us that living alone, loneliness, and lack of emotional support are predictors of suicide and self-harm across all age groups.

In these increasingly challenging and uncertain times, people need hope. People of all ages all around us are experiencing brokenness, fear, and loneliness like they did in Nehemiah’s day. They have broken-down walls and gates that have been destroyed. They are vulnerable to the Enemy. You and I can make the critical difference for them by providing encouraging community. You can courageously lead a group for six weeks and open your life and circle to others who need connection. You can’t see another person’s heart and needs. You can’t know for sure what they are experiencing. BUT, my father used to quote an unknown wise man he had learned was so right: “Assume everyone you meet is having a hard time. Ninety-nine percent of the time you’ll be right.” If you assume they are probably lonely and you communicate acceptance and a willingness to know and be known, you will build a bridge someone may cross to save a life and build a tremendous future. Our groups are a healthy way to address the unhealth of our times. God, help us share our community with those in despair.

I want to encourage you to be intentional with those in your life who you sense are struggling. Become a Nehemiah (comforter).

There are two things you can specifically do:

First, shoot them an invitation to watch the series RENT FREE.

Secondly, invite them to a group that you are leading.