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February 26, 2024

Chris Murphy brings anti-loneliness message to middle schoolers

ALLY LEMASTER / CT MIRROR Sen. Chris Murphy shows students at CREC Academy of Computer Science and Engineering Middle School pictures on his phone on Feb. 23, 2024.

In his continuing campaign to combat loneliness, Sen. Chris Murphy brought his message to East Hartford on Friday, where he spoke with about 50 attentive middle-schoolers.

“No One Eats Alone Day,” which fell at the end of last week, inspired the event at CREC Academy of Computer Science and Engineering Middle School.

Murphy spoke about how middle school can be an isolating time.

“It can be a world in which friend groups shift and move really quickly. It can be a time when you sometimes have days where you feel a little low, a phase where you feel a little isolated from your schools and your friends, and that’s OK,” he said.

Murphy explained how ending loneliness can start at the school level, with students reaching out in “small ways” to others they see struggling. He told students one of his top priorities is “trying to find more places that students, young people and adults can go to find friends.” 

Eighth grader Amir Bentley explained how his teacher, Mr. Bradley, makes these types of efforts. Mr. Bradley, he said, both “challenges” him and “boosts” other students up.  

“They’re there for me, and I really like them,” said Bentley. 

“Schools are a place where you meet folks, but … there are fewer places for kids to go after school, fewer sports leagues or activities that they can join,” Murphy said. 

In May 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared loneliness a public health crisis, and Murphy introduced “The National Strategy for Social Connection Act” as a legislative response. The bill would create an office to develop a national social connection strategy, improve public awareness of loneliness as an issue and conduct further research on its effects.

Murphy has said he understands that talking about loneliness isn’t the most natural fit for a lawmaker, but he believes there is a role for the government to play in helping to “build the places where we can find and meet each other.”

Laura Talmus, the co-founder of Beyond Differences, a national nonprofit aimed at ending social isolation in schools and the cosponsor of the event, applauded Murphy’s efforts to raise the issue in schools.

“It’s super important to have the leadership at the national level to shine a spotlight on this issue of social isolation, especially among children,” said Talmus, who noted that  LGBTQ+ and disabled students are more likely to face social isolation.

In a November 2023 interview with The Connecticut Mirror, Murphy discussed how he introduced the bill for many reasons, including his personal struggle with loneliness as a senator.

When asked by a student about the hardest parts of his job, he said the time away from family and constant backlash from critics can take a toll.

“There are a lot of haters out in the world,” said Murphy. “You have to kind of have — you know — what they call a ‘thick skin’ in this business. You have to not let criticism get to you.” 

To help begin fostering the type of connections Murphy had discussed, Beyond Differences staff ended the event by having students create a community mural, expressing their hopes, worries and things that made them “bloom.”

Bentley wrote that “seeing other people happy” made him bloom. 

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