As Epidemic of Loneliness Spreads, California Schools Step Up to Help


Posted: March 19, 2024 | Word Count: 540

National experts warn that an “epidemic of loneliness” may be driving the rise of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems, particularly among teens.1 According to a recently released Teen National Health Interview Survey, 21% of teens reported having symptoms of anxiety in the past two weeks. And 17% reported having symptoms of depression in 2021 and 2022.2 California teachers have seen the harmful impact firsthand, and many local schools are stepping up as a result.

For instance, Feb. 16 marked the day that schools throughout California joined more than 2,000+ schools and one million students nationwide to participate in National No One Eats Alone Day.

No One Eats Alone is a lunchtime project built by the nonprofit Beyond Differences in 2012. It began at a handful of schools in Northern California to inspire students to create a safe and friendly culture for all. Since then, it has grown to include schools in all 50 states.

This is an important time for schoolchildren. The COVID-19 pandemic caused long-standing effects on students’ mental health. And harmed students’ social skills in building and keeping social bonds.3 Many students faced social withdrawal and formed lonely habits during the pandemic.4 To help address this problem, No One Eats Alone is designed to:

  • Combat social isolation and loneliness;
  • Help students get to know one another; and
  • Make everyone feel welcome and embraced for who they are.

In California, Health Net, one of California’s most experienced Medi-Cal managed health care plans and wholly-owned subsidiary of Centene Corporation, supports No One Eats Alone Day across the state. They’ve played a vital role in helping to target student social isolation and its harmful effects. They’ve teamed with Beyond Differences to develop and refine key resources to help students throughout the state. These tools are designed to help students break out of their comfort zones and make new friends — all in hopes of building a sense of community within their schools.

With that in mind, it's important to note the many proven benefits of social contacts and fostering good mental health. Benefits include:

  • Lower rates of depression
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Greater empathy
  • More trusting relationships5

Beyond the sheer relief and delight that social acceptance can cause, bringing children together in a social setting can help nurture their physical zeal through active play and exercise. At the same time, uniting children socially can also promote emotional strength and a secure sense of belonging.

As California moves forward, communities and companies must maintain a shared spirit of change and for them to keep seeking ways to champion children’s health and well-being. Doing this will help ensure that kids and teens are primed to succeed in the years ahead.

1 Education Week, 2023. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-educators-need-to-know-about-the-epidemic-of-loneliness-among-students/2023/11

2 KFF, February, 2024. https://www.kff.org/mental-health/issue-brief/recent-trends-in-mental-health-and-substance-use-concerns-among-adolescents/#:~:text=Key%20takeaways%20include%3A,report%20experiencing%20anxiety%20or%20depression.

3 Promoting Positive Social Interactions: Recommendation for a Post-Pandemic School-Based Intervention for Social Anxiety, 2023. https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9067/10/3/491

4 Promoting Positive Social Interactions: Recommendation for a Post-Pandemic School-Based Intervention for Social Anxiety, 2023. https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9067/10/3/491

5 Better Health Channel, 2022. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Strong-relationships-strong-health

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