Fighting loneliness through connections to local communities

A background on loneliness

Neighbourly Ride - Carlton North after finishing a great ride together
Neighbourly Ride - Carlton North after finishing a great ride together

Loneliness affects more people than you may realise. Research from Relationship’s Australia shows that one in ten people lack social support or connection to others. As much as we have the technology to bring us together, people are still feeling isolated and one in six people are experiencing emotional loneliness.

It goes deeper than this too; since this is a private condition it is harder to share or express how they are feeling. Because of this, nearly 1.5 million Australians report they’ve experienced loneliness for a decade or more. This is alarming information, and it signals that people have a desperate need for communities and emotional connection.

How loneliness can affect your health

Neighbourly Ride - Royal Park Wetlands - sharing experiences
Royal Park Wetlands - sharing experiences in local nature reserves

Loneliness is like a double-edged sword, loneliness itself can cause harmful health conditions and that poor health results in even higher rates of emotional loneliness and lack of social support. 

The negative health effects of loneliness are very real and it has been seen to be just as damaging to a person’s health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. This should sound a real alarm that tackling the loneliness epidemic needs to be a priority. This is impacting a wide variety of people but single parents might be most at risk.

They are most likely to experience the key indicators of loneliness but single fathers look to be even more susceptible. Nearly 40% of single fathers are reporting a lack of social support and over 40% report emotional loneliness. Being a single parent presents its own unique challenges but the loneliness factor can really compound all these issues. 

Why connecting to your local community is so important

Enjoying a coffee and connecting
Enjoying a coffee and connecting

Since we can see how many people are affected by loneliness, and the damage that comes from it, the question is how can this be dealt with? This is where the community needs to step up. Reaching out to our neighbours to help them make connections in their community can’t be overlooked. 

Sharing a post ride coffee at Park St cafe North Carlton
Sharing a post ride coffee at Park St cafe - North Carlton

Any good community should offer different interest groups that will appeal to the hobbies and interests of the people in them. Some great groups would include book clubs, cooking classes, walking groups, and cycling groups. The more options a community can offer the better it is for helping those who suffer from loneliness; Research conducted by the ANU’s Dr. Teagan Cruwys, and The University of Queensland’s professor Alex Haslam found that the more social groups a person belongs to the better it was for counteracting depression. Belonging to more social groups also will lead to a longer life-span.

Riding in North Fitzroy with Phiplip

This is significant for people going into post-retirement. Widowed men are also at risk of a high amount of loneliness and so are women under 65. It shows that loneliness strikes at all stages of life and it’s important for people to have more social engagement leading up to, and after, retirement. 

Making new friends and connections

Catching up for a chat at the lights - St Georges Rd bike path

When a community offers as many groups and clubs as possible it gives more opportunities for those looking to make new social connections. Local bike riding groups including many BUGS (Bicycle User Groups) that combines the exercise from cycling with the social connection and dynamic. 

It doesn’t just have to be cycling as any physically based groups such as walking, running, or hiking clubs will be a great combination of providing physical and mental health. The group dynamic will be important for social engagement and the exercise can help combat depression among many of its benefits. 

Making new friends and connections can be achieved by book clubs, cooking classes, bird watching, creative writing workshops as just a few examples. The more that can be provided in the community the more opportunity there is to help those suffering from loneliness. 

How to get started

Specialty days - such as Neighbour Day that happened this year on March 31st -  are great for bringing awareness to the issues of isolation and loneliness. A real focus is put on what neighbours can do to create real connections. The next one will be on 29th March 2020 but you obviously don’t have to wait until then to make a difference.

The focus on what neighbours can do to create connections needs to be a focus year round. If you’re wondering how to help, you can give your time in leading groups that can connect members of your community. If you have any special skills, this can be a great usage of them by teaching and instructing others. You will be able to share your abilities while building unity with your neighbours. You’ll be able to give back, fight this loneliness epidemic, and build up your community and the people that are in it. 

Special thanks
Nick Tebbey, National Executive Officer Relationships Australia

Neighbour Day

Neighbour Day is Australia’s annual celebration of community, encouraging people to connect with those who live in their neighbourhood. Whether through a cuppa, a picnic in the park, or a message of support; Neighbour Day is the perfect opportunity to say thanks for being a great neighbour and for being there to lend a hand. Neighbour Day is celebrated on the last Sunday in March every year with the aim of fostering strong personal connections that last the whole year-round. Every can be neighbour day. 

You can follow Neighbour Day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and check the Neighbour Day website regularly for updates, to register online and access ideas and free resources.