Dr Ruth Westheimer, a well-known media figure and sex therapist, has been appointed as New York state’s honorary ambassador to loneliness, Governor Kathy Hochul announced Friday. According to a press release, this development is intended to assist an underserved mental health need. Dr Westheimer is aiming to help New Yorkers with social isolation, which is associated with physical and mental health issues such as cardiovascular disease, depression and premature death.
“As New York works to fight the loneliness epidemic, some help from honorary Ambassador Ruth Westheimer may be just what the doctor ordered,” Governor Hochul said in a statement. “Studies show individuals experiencing loneliness had a 32 percent higher risk of dying early and we need leaders like Dr. Ruth to help address this critical component of our mental health crisis,” she added.
As per the press note, Dr Westheimer is a survivor orphaned by the Holocaust. She rose to prominence as a sex therapist and syndicated talk show host on both radio and television during the 1980s and 1990s. It was last year, the 95-year-old suggested the idea of becoming an ‘ambassador’ for the state in a bid to provide fellow New Yorkers will advice on how to address loneliness and isolation, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Hallelujah!” Dr Westheimer said in a news release. “I am deeply honored and promised the Governor that I will work day and night to help New Yorkers feel less lonely,” she added.
Loneliness is defined as the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact, while social isolation refers to a lack of social connections, as per the press release. More than a third of adults 45 or older experience loneliness, while nearly a quarter of adults 65 and older are considered socially isolated, a study by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine found.
Therefore, under Ms Hochul’s leadership, New York is working to create “age-friendly communities and build a more robust system of mental health care,” according to the news release. Last year, Governor Hochul also signed an executive order to create the state’s first-ever Master Plan for Aging to ensure older New Yorkers can live healthy, fulfilling lives while ageing with dignity and independence.
Notably, Dr Westheimer’s honorary appointment underlines Ms Hochul’s recent emphasis on ageing and social needs.