Loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, costing the US National Health Service billions of dollars each year.

This was revealed by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in an 81-page study – which identifies loneliness as America’s new epidemic.

According to the research, about half of all Americans said they have experienced a more or less prolonged period of chronic loneliness in recent decades. The phenomenon is mainly due to the proliferation of “virtual” life tools as opposed to the usual gathering places such as churches, neighborhood groups. Families are no better off either – as the number of people living alone has doubled in the past 60 years.

Adding the final blow was the lockdown, which has forced many (especially the very young) to isolate themselves at home away from family or friends, and businesses and schools to close their doors.

“We now know that loneliness is a common feeling for many people. It is like hunger or thirst. It’s a feeling the body sends us when we lack something we need to survive,” Murthy told the Associated Press. “Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and this is not right. That’s why I issued this warning to bring the curtain down on a struggle that too many people are facing.”

Specifically, lonely people would be about 30 percent more likely to die prematurely, being exposed to a higher risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Isolation would also increase the chances of developing dementia, depression and anxiety.

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