Posted: 09/03/2015 08:03 AM EDT | Edited: 09/03/2015 04:40 PM EDT
Loneliness is a growing epidemic, with studies showing that as many as one in five Americans are suffering in silence. For many, the hurt goes much deeper than a temporary pang -- Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports that loneliness has a dramatic impact on your health and can literally make you sick.
To combat loneliness around the country, Skype and O, The Oprah Magazine launched the Just Say Hello campaign last year; the project encourages everyday connection by simply speaking up and saying "hello." As simple as it may sound, research shows that taking time to connect can help us live healthier, happier lives.
Now the campaign has made its way into schools. Carr Fullagar, a teacher at Cape Fear Academy in Wilmington, NC, says the movement has made a profound impact on his students.
"We told our kids, 'All we're asking you to do is find someone you don't know real well, or a friend you haven't connected with in a while, and just say 'hello' to them,'" he says.
The school created "Just Say Hello" cards and encouraged students to write down the names of classmates they said hello to and bring it back at the end of the week. "And we could see exactly how far the 'hello's' had gone," Fullagar says.
The school's playground now has a dedicated "Buddy Bench," where students are able to sit if they're ever feeling lonely. "And so the other kids around know that if they see a student sitting on that bench that they should go over and join them and have a conversation," Fullagar says.
The effect, he says, has been positive. "Fortunately, we don't see a whole lot of kids sit on it every day, but when they do sit on the bench, it's really a powerful conversation that we see take place."