ATL Friends groups form adult friendships amid national loneliness epidemic

ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Amid a nationwide loneliness epidemic, a social media movement is creating connections amongst Atlanta adults.

Anna Olson created ATL Friends, a community group that brings people together at events throughout the metro. She started the group after experiencing her own bout of loneliness, following a cross-country move and breakup two years ago.

“It’s hard to make friends as an adult. We’ve all experienced that,” said Olson.

Hundreds of people have attended events through the group including picnics at Piedmont Park, group nights at sporting events, and smaller fitness classes. Most events are free and open to anyone 21 and up.

“Our goal is to create an environment for people to feel safe to admit they’re lonely and there’s no shame in that,” said Olson.

The group’s growth coincides with a loneliness epidemic sweeping the country posing severe mental and physical impact. A newly released report by the U.S. Surgeon General finds about half of U.S. adults report measurable levels of loneliness.

The findings equate premature death from poor connection with smoking 15 cigarettes a day. People lacking connection can face a 29 percent increased risk for heart disease, 32 percent increased risk for stroke, and 50 percent increased risk for developing dementia in older adults.

Licensed professional counselor Laura Morse said feelings of loneliness, amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic, still hang heavy over younger generations.

“People, especially young people, forgot how to socialize, and that’s something hopefully people are getting more comfortable in doing,” said Morse. “We need to have a sense of community, and people need to come together – not in a crisis situation, but in everyday life.”

Bonding over shared activities, like ATL Friends outings, can help build stronger connections amongst strangers.

“Some people are out doing a creative or physical activity, you say at least I have something in common with this person,” explained Morse. “If I give myself an opportunity to talk and discuss this activity, we might find we have more in common and then there might be an ease in making future plans.”

The toughest part about forming connections is taking the initial leap.

“I get intimidated to meet more people. It’s not easy for anybody, but the more you do it, the more you put yourself in those situations, the more you benefit from it,” said Olson.

ATL Friends is hosting its 2 year anniversary field day event at the Active Oval in Piedmont Park on September 30. There will be field games, tabletop games, and space to picnic. Tickets for the free event can be reserved through the group’s Instagram page.

Savannah Louie

Savannah Louie

Savannah Louie is an anchor and multi-media journalist for Atlanta News First. She anchors the 10 p.m. newscast and also reports in other shows on WANF. Savannah joined the Atlanta News First team in September 2021.