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YMCA of Snohomish County Combats Social Isolation Epidemic

The United States is facing a social isolation epidemic. At a national YMCA leadership conference in July 2023, U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, MD, shared how detrimental loneliness and isolation can be and how organizations like the YMCA can provide a sense of belonging and opportunities for social interaction.

“The mortality impact of social disconnection is on par with smoking daily and an even greater mortality risk than obesity.” said Murthy. “As the steward of an office that has spent decades addressing smoking and obesity, we must acknowledge that loneliness is just as important of a public health threat and one that we have to treat with the same urgency.”

The consequences of loneliness are profound. People experiencing loneliness or isolation have an increased risk for depression, anxiety and suicide. It also increases the risk of physical illness including cardiovascular disease, dementia and premature death.

How do we combat the problem? Develop and invest in programs, policies and structures like the YMCA that bring people together to build healthy relationships.

“The Y has always been an extraordinary source of value to communities for years and years,” said Murthy. “This is a moment in time when we need Ys more than ever to build those connections between people.”

At the Y, connections and friendships are built every day. It’s at the heart of everything the Y does in the community. Stanwood-Camano YMCA member, Nancy Lewis, shares how the friends she made in her water fitness class have expanded her social circle and given her a new sense of purpose.

“My friend and I would go to the Y together and attend water fitness classes and we always noticed a group in the center who was laughing and having a great time. I told my friend that they looked like fun people that we should get to know,” said Lewis. “One day, I overheard them talk about the dice game, BUNCO, and I let them know I play. They were totally welcoming and asked me and my friend to join their group and from that day on we’ve been friends.”

Nancy’s friend group, the self-proclaimed Mermaids and Mermen, has stretched beyond the walls of the Y. They have gone whale watching, participated in Y community activities, played games, and go to lunch every Friday after their water fitness class. They also serve as a support system for one another.

“Because all of us are a bit older, when someone isn’t feeling well we check in to see if they need groceries or medicine or a ride to the doctor,” said Lewis. “If someone is missing, we check in to see if they are okay. We’re just a group of really close friends that watch out for one another.”

Lewis encourages anyone who needs a friend to visit the Y because you’ll never know what might happen if you reach out and are open to meeting people.

“There are so many classes and activities to come to,” said Lewis. “If you just take that first step and are open to people, you’ll find your group. I accidentally overheard a conversation and because of that found a whole new group of people that have become lifelong friends.”