19th US Surgeon General tells the wellness sector 'we all have the power to be healers'
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19th US Surgeon General tells the wellness sector 'we all have the power to be healers'

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Dr Vivek Murthy, the 19th US Surgeon General, spoke to attendees of the Global Wellness Summit yesterday (10 November) about the importance of addressing loneliness on a personal level, in the workplace, in communities and society.

In a powerful interview with Dr Richard Carmona, the 17th US Surgeon General and chief of health innovations at Canyon Ranch, he said that an antidote to loneliness is human connection and building relationships with people.

“Few medicines are more powerful than love, compassion and kindness,” he said, “and all of us have the power to be healers because all of us have the power to be kind, compassionate and loving.”

Murthy has just been tapped by president-elect Joe Biden to lead the USA’s response to COVID-19. He’s also the author of a best-selling book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.

He explained that he was motivated to write the book because of things he’s seen during his many years of clinical practice and as surgeon general.

“I was never trained to think about loneliness in medical school, but I’d often see patients coming into hospital on their own in really difficult times and I’d ask them if there was someone I could call to be with them and a lot of times they would say ‘I wish there was, but there’s no one’.

“As surgeon general, people were talking to me about their struggles with depression, opioid use disorder, concerns with chronic disease and would say ‘on top of all of this, I have to deal with this on my own’, ‘I feel abandoned’, ‘I feel like if I disappeared tomorrow, no one would even care’– and this resonated with me.”

Loneliness, Murthy said, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, dementia and premature death and is also linked with a higher risk of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and a host of other conditions. All of these challenges, which are mostly preventable diseases, cost the US up to US$3tn a year in healthcare costs.

Recognising the social and economic burden of isolation, the UK even appointed a Minister for Loneliness in 2018 and Australia and several countries in Europe are also taking the lead to combat it.

“The book I wrote was essentially about loneliness, but I became fascinated and encouraged by the power of social connection,” Murthy said.

“The more meaningful social relations we have, the more it enhances all dimensions of our lives – not just our physical and mental health, it also enhances how we perform in school and in the workplace.”

But, he added, you don’t need years and years of relationships to make a difference. Even a barista at a coffee shop smiling at you, asking you how you are and waiting to hear your response counts.

“Research has shown that even if you have a brief interaction with someone that’s positive, that’s marked by kindness and compassion, you have a longer impact on them than just a few seconds.”

Touch is also profoundly important, he said.

Offering advice to all those in the world of spa and wellness, Murthy concluded: “If you think about designing your workplaces for your staff and the services you provide your community, just recognise that whenever you can, bring people together where they can understand one another more clearly by sharing, where they have opportunities to help one another which help to strengthen connection.

“Then you’re helping to build community. You're contributing to healing… especially during this time of COVID-19, because people are dealing with extraordinary levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty.”

To explore more ideas about how spas can help tackle loneliness, click here.

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Dr Vivek Murthy, the 19th US Surgeon General, spoke to attendees of the Global Wellness Summit yesterday (10 November) about the importance of addressing loneliness on a personal level, in the workplace, in communities and society.
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