What is making so many Americans turn to alcohol and drugs and still others take their own lives? Explanations will run the gamut. Usually, people will cite their own particular hobby horse, and I may be guilty of that. My obsession is family decline. Due to unmarriage and divorce, more Americans are living alone than at any time in our history. Let me quickly acknowledge that the steep rise in adolescent depression in recent years may well have more to do with social media than anything else. Jean Twenge’s work suggests that girls are particularly vulnerable to online cruelty.
But back to family decline. Not only do divorce and rapidly cycling relationships (and living arrangements) leave adults and especially children emotionally scarred, the loss of secure families also leaves millions of people lonely. In 2010, an AARP survey found that one-third of American adults were chronically lonely. In 2000, only one in five had reported feeling that way. The Atlantic magazine has described loneliness as “more dangerous than obesity, and . . . about as deadly as smoking.” In Them, Senator Ben Sasse quotes psychiatrists who believe people are more comfortable describing themselves as depressed than lonely. They noticed that their patients felt “deep shame” about their own isolation.