Recipients of PSC Small Grant Awards
Making the Loneliness Epidemic: How Government and Nonprofits Construct and Respond to Social Isolation and Loneliness as a Public Problem
U of M is an excellent place to conduct my mixed-methods research on how the government and nonprofits respond to social isolation and loneliness (SIL). When I arrived at graduate school, I noticed that prevalent SIL—referred to as a “loneliness epidemic”—was receiving attention from a wide range of actors, from government officials to nonprofit staff to doctors to journalists in the US and worldwide. Given research—including studies by ISR scholars such as Jim House—on the link between SIL and poor health outcomes, these actors often framed SIL as a health issue, in particular among older adults, and proposed solutions ranging from screening for SIL in annual physicals to distributing robotic companions to volunteering to make social calls to isolated individuals. Though a wealth of research documents the prevalence, causes, and consequences of SIL, little research exists on how societies frame and respond to SIL as a policy problem. Such research is important, because how a problem is framed affects how it is addressed. My research will thus enable policymakers, nonprofits, medical professionals, and others to design critically informed and evidence-based policy responses to SIL.