Scandinavian city unveils plan to cure loneliness epidemic, and it starts with a simple ‘hello’

One Swedish city has a plan to stop the world’s post-pandemic loneliness epidemic in its tracks, and it starts with a simple “hello.” 

Luleå, Sweden’s “Säg hej!” – or, “say hello” – campaign aims to tackle the issue with ads geared toward encouraging locals to greet each other in small ways to generate a sense of warmth.

Adverts are already running on buses and workshops are being held in schools, according to The Guardian, who reported on the campaign on Tuesday.

Luleå sees little sunlight in the Winter, and the melancholy of being indoors and away from others intensifies with the winter months, Micael Dahlen, a professor in wellbeing, welfare and happiness at Stockholm School of Economics, told the outlet.

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But the problem, though worse at times, exists around the clock, with health experts, including U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, warning the devastating toll of loneliness could have long-term physical health consequences on the public.

“Loneliness and isolation are huge problems any time of the year almost anywhere in the world right now,” Dahlen said. 

“It comes with the time we live in, the lifestyles we have, where we don’t necessarily come across each other to the same extent as we used to,” he added, telling the outlet Sweden is especially susceptible thanks to its winters and the darkness.

While the problem affects all ages, younger age groups feel it most.

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Per the report, 16- to 29-year-olds suffer most, with 45% of the group feeling the burden while the elderly feel it much less.

The goal of the entire campaign is not only to curb loneliness, but to also make Luleå a friendlier place.

“We don’t just want that Luleå is going to grow as a city; we want Luleå to be a pleasant and safe and friendly city as well where there’s culture, leisure activities, sport,” Åsa Koski, a city worker who came up with the idea, said. She added being spoken to by strangers make people feel as if they “belong.”

Earlier this year, U.S. health officials warned loneliness could have deadly consequences, presenting a danger analogous to that of smoking.

“We now know that loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience. It’s like hunger or thirst. It’s a feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing,” Dr. Vivek Murthy said, per the Associated Press, shortly after releasing an 81-page advisory on the topic.

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“Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and that’s not right,” he continued. “That’s why I issued this advisory to pull back the curtain on a struggle that too many people are experiencing.”

The report concluded that loneliness “is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death,” with a mortality impact similar to that “caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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