As loneliness and social isolation become a crisis in America, particularly among boys and men, more is being done to address the issues as they become more acute.
Experts say the epidemic is wreaking significant damage on men, thanks not only to technological forces but also to male norms that encourage individualism and stoicism rather than deep friendship with other men.
The US Surgeon General Dr. At the start of Mental Health Awareness Month in early May, Vivek Murthy described widespread social distancing as an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation,” bringing with it health risks as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. In an advisory, Murthy outlined a plan, the “National Strategy for Promoting Social Connections,” to help combat the problem.
Men often have fewer friends than women: 15 percent say they have no close friends. Experts give recommendations on what boys and men can do to combat social isolation.
Join a group or team activity
Men tend to have direct relationships with each other, said Joe Grasso, a licensed clinical psychologist who earned his PhD from UT-Austin and specializes in masculinity and men’s issues The Dallas Morning News.
Participating in a group activity, such as exercise or games, can help socialize and build a team.
“Men are more likely to form friendships around activities together, whether it’s fantasy football, playing in a recreational league, or just meeting up to watch a game,” Grasso said. “These are all ‘socially acceptable’ ways for men to spend time together and socialize.”
Niobe Way, professor of applied psychology at NYU and author of 2011’s Deep Secrets: Boyfriendship and the Crisis of Connectionsaid group activities are particularly helpful when the environment surrounding an activity, such as sport, is positive.
“It takes a good coach to really make sport something you can build lasting friendships on,” Way said The news. “A coach who kind of encourages that.”
Way has found that while boys desire deep friendships with one another, cultural norms often prevent them from fostering more emotional intimacy with their friends.
“If they’re honest and they feel safe enough to be honest, they’re going to say, ‘Of course I want that,'” Way said. “And they have a hard time finding other men, partly because they don’t think other men want that.”
Most of the work is overcoming that hurdle, Way said.
“It really is as simple as walking up to other people and asking them to do something with you,” she said.
Join the conversation
Grasso said men tend to distance themselves from relationships that are too difficult to maintain, making friendships difficult.
He added that they often lack vocabulary about their feelings.
Way said men could be more active in their social interactions to form deeper friendships.
“Ask questions about what they’re saying instead of just waiting to tell your own story,” she said. “We don’t ask each other enough questions and therefore often don’t feel listened to. Men are particularly bad at asking follow-up questions. … Follow-up questions allow us to better understand and feel more connected to the experiences of others.”