The Life Span of Loneliness


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The Life Span of Loneliness

Dec. 21, 2023, 5:02 a.m. ET
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Video by Adam Westbrook and Emily Holzknecht

Mr. Westbrook is a producer and editor with Opinion Video. Ms. Holzknecht is an associate producer.

The Opinion video above gives voice to the lonely. We are publishing it at the end of a year in which loneliness started getting the kind of attention it has long deserved — an effort led, in large part, by the surgeon general of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy. In a guest essay last spring, he revealed that he, too, had struggled with loneliness and said the nation was facing “an epidemic of loneliness and isolation.” Several days later, he issued a surgeon general advisory about the problem, calling it a “public health crisis” and outlining a strategy to confront it.

The New York Times invited readers to share how loneliness was affecting their lives. More than 1,400 people responded — young and old, from every corner of the country, every walk of life. Each response was like a message in a bottle cast into the water from a distant island.

“I should have recognized my malaise long before I found myself lying on my living room floor each night after work,” wrote Karen S., a 37-year-old from California. “I’d just lie on the hardwood and stare at the ceiling for hours, paralyzed. In December 2019, I suffered a heart attack. I believe stress and loneliness caused, if not contributed, to the attack.”

John W., 51, from Massachusetts wrote: “I feel most lonely when my spouse comes home after a long day and decompresses with social media. I keep it to myself, since expressing my loneliness to my spouse is only met with gaslighting. It would be nice if someone would extend an invite to coffee or something.”

And Ellen D., 83, from New York, wrote: “I’ve lived alone for many years, but the loneliness that goes so deep that it makes you wonder what you did wrong and whether it’s worth going on didn’t start until after I retired, with each year a little worse.”

Opinion Video followed up with dozens of respondents to learn more about their experiences. The result — the video above — is an intimate portrait of a nation of people struggling, and often failing, to find meaningful connection. We learned that loneliness does not discriminate by age or background. With the holidays upon us and the year coming to a close, we hope this video serves as a reminder that no one is alone in feeling lonely and that sometimes the most meaningful gifts we have to offer are our time and attention. So if there’s someone you’ve been meaning to reach out to, don’t wait.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reachthe National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or go to for a list of additional resources.

Adam Westbrook is a producer and editor with Opinion Video. Emily Holzknecht (@emilyholzknecht) is an associate producer in Opinion Video.

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