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Harvard Magazine January 2021 Feature: The Loneliness Pandemic

by | Feb 2, 2021

Harvard Magazine’s January 2021 cover story, “The Loneliness Pandemic,” covered the psychology and social costs of isolation in everyday life. The Founder & President of the Foundation for Art & Healing – Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH – contributed his expertise having created the UnLonely Project, which increases public awareness of loneliness and lessens its burden for those struggling to cope. The Foundation and its UnLonely Project initiative provide art-focused activities and resources to help people heal emotionally and improve community well-being.

Read a brief except of the article, which was written by Jacob Sweet and harvardmagazine.com, directly below. 

BRADLEY RIEW ’18 had a calendar reliably packed from 9 A.M. to midnight. To him, that didn’t seem so bad. “You know,” he says, “you have nine hours to sleep.”

On top of his schoolwork and various extracurriculars, he spent about 20 hours a week volunteering at local homeless shelters. He acknowledges now how well he fit the “overworked Harvard student” stereotype, but during sophomore year the commitments didn’t strike him as unusual. “I was just doing what everyone else was doing,” he says. “I was just absorbed in that culture of go, go, go, go, go.”

But the packed days strung together, the work piled on, and Riew felt more and more drained. Classwork encroached later into the night, and he went to bed with a level of exhaustion that rest couldn’t fix. “I didn’t really have time to do my schoolwork,” he recalls, “and I didn’t have time to just relax or spend time talking to somebody.”

Riew had no problem connecting with others, but keeping in touch and forming strong friendships was harder. He’d think about reaching out to someone, only to realize that they hadn’t spoken for months and decide the effort wasn’t worth it. Potential friends were now just friendly acquaintances. “And all my relationships were like that,” he says.

His productivity outpaced his social life, until it didn’t. His grades began to slip, and he started feeling depressed. “I got to the point where I didn’t care about anything I was doing,” he admits. “I was doing it because I had been doing it before.” He decided to take a leave of absence after that year, staying home in St. Louis. Only when the noise of undergraduate life began to fade did he finally begin to see the root of his problems: though he was far from alone, he was lonely.

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Community-based organizations (CBOs) are well-positioned to provide effective programs that reduce loneliness, enhance social connection, and build social cohesion skills and confidence. Unfortunately, CBOs are often constrained by lack of suitable program content, skilled facilitators, and the ability to evaluate program outcomes to demonstrate benefit. This article describes an approach to partnering with CBOs to address loneliness that offers innovative program content, including creative arts expression, mindfulness, and social-emotional learning activities—all available for streaming or download from a digital platform, efficiently and cost-effectively.

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