U.S. Surgeon General Visits Red Eagle Soaring!

By United Way of King County, on June 17, 2024 | In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, Fighting Homelessness, Food Insecurity, News, Racial Equity

United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has canvassed the country, urging people to see loneliness and isolation as a health crisis. On a recent trip to Seattle, Murthy stressed the need for food and housing security—two priorities for United Way of King County—to support social connections.

“Food is a powerful force to bring us together. For thousands of generations and thousands of years, we have gathered around the table to eat, to have conversation, to build relationships,” said Murthy, who joined State Secretary of Health Umair Shah for a discussion on social connection and loneliness as part of a state health department speaker series.

The event—which took place at Red Eagle Soaring, a United Way-supported Indigenous youth theatre company–is among four such discussions that the Washington Department of Health has employed to promote health equity and spotlight innovative ideas about health and wellness.

Murthy launched his campaign last year when he declared loneliness and isolation a national epidemic and stated that it could trigger other serious illnesses like heart disease and dementia. During his Seattle visit, Murthy said our communities already have the resources to combat loneliness and isolation, including the social connections we get by gathering around food and having adequate housing.

United Way recently launched Our Neighbor Fund, a campaign to raise $12.5 million to invest in strategies to feed families and keep them in their homes. The fund will enable us to provide students with free meals when school is out, leverage millions of dollars in rental assistance funding, provide students with emergency grants and housing assistance, and much more. To donate to Our Neighbor Fund, click here.

 “Housing is one of the fundamental needs we all have,” Murthy said. “When you are unhoused and when you don’t have a place to live, when you don’t feel safe, that creates stress, and often a toxic level of stress within people. That’s critical because we know that stress has tremendous effects on our mental and physical health. We know that relationships are powerful buffers to stress. You have to ensure that people have those basic needs met to feed themselves and their families and have a safe place to live.”

State Secretary of Health Umair Shah (left) and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at Red Eagle Soaring Youth Theater

“A lot of people think of loneliness as a bad feeling; that’s how I thought about it as a young person struggling with loneliness,” Murthy added. “What I didn’t realize was that there are real mental and physical health consequences. For people who struggle with a sense of being socially disconnected, their risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide goes up. But their risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia also goes up.”

“Overall, we find that the mortality impact of social disconnection, the impact on the longevity of your life is on par with smoking daily. It’s even greater than what we see with obesity. This is a public health issue that is just as important as tobacco or obesity,” Murthy concluded.

We know that relationships are powerful buffers to stress. You have to ensure that people have those basic needs met to feed themselves and their families and have a safe place to live.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

Shah agreed, adding that a safe place to live and enough to eat are fundamental needs that should be available to everyone.

Shah said Red Eagle Soaring was chosen for the event to help connect with local communities, particularly Indigenous ones. Red Eagle Soaring serves young people across King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties to foster social connections through art and culture.

Shah added, “We have so many of our community members here, not just from our tribes but so many of our community partners who are here and recognizing this challenge around loneliness and concerns around behavioral health across our state and across our country and across the globe.”


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