Moderator: Katie Lewis, PhD
Speakers: Paula Pietromonaco, PhD; Blessing Ojembe, PhD, MSW, RSW; Niobe Way, PhD
In 2021, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy described experiences of loneliness as “a dark thread through our nation’s most pressing public health challenges” (Murthy, 2021, Public Health Reports, 136). Rates of loneliness across the globe have increased across age and demographic groups steadily over the past two decades, despite concomitant changes in communication technology and virtual interconnectedness. How do we account for the growing prevalence of feelings of isolation, disconnect, longing, and loss, which contribute not only to mental health challenges but also basic experiences of stability and safety within our families, communities, and sense of being a person in the world?
In this panel, three experts in the field of social (dis)connection will share their perspectives on the rise of loneliness as a public health crisis. Dr. Niobe Way has devoted her career to examining social connectedness conceptualized through developmental, cultural, and psychological lenses, with a particular focus on how adolescent identity development. Her presentation will explore the roots, consequences, and solutions to loneliness as a crisis of connection. Dr. Paula Pietromonaco brings decades of expertise in the study of close family and other interpersonal relationships, examining how social perceptions, behaviors, and physiological responses to conflict and stress influence the capacity to experience social connection and emotional intimacy during adulthood. Dr. Blessing Ojembe will share her interdisciplinary expertise and perspective on loneliness and social isolation in Black older adults, highlighting the interplay between time, place and interaction, the contributing and contextual factors of race, age, disempowerment, marginalization, health, and immigration status. Each presenter will discuss factors which affect loneliness across the lifespan and engage in a moderated discussion with attendees about potential pathways towards addressing social disconnection at both individual and community levels.