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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisabeth Medlock

The Remedy to Disconnection and Social Isolation is Building Connected Communities

Emotional connectivity is a core part of being human and is essential for psychological survival. We all thrive if we live in socially connected communities.

We all need to feel connected. Emotional connectivity is a core part of being human and is essential for psychological survival. We feel connection through personal relationships, participating in groups and institutions, being in meaningful roles, and connecting to place, community or country. But in this digital and technological age of remoteness and engaging with our phones, there is increasing disconnection and loneliness, and in general, less caring of others and connection to community.

Disconnection, often experienced as social isolation and loneliness, is deadly. It has even been called an epidemic. Loneliness has negative effects on mental health; worsening depression, anxiety and cognitive functioning. It effects physical health through higher rates of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, chronic pain and fatigue. Certain age groups (adolescents, young adults and older adults) seem to be more at risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Large-scale studies suggest that social isolation affects not only mental health but also morbidity and mortality. The health impact of social isolation has been equated to smoking fifteen cigarettes or drinking six standard drinks of alcohol a day (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010).

Disconnection and loneliness in teens and older adults are well documented, but recent studies have shown it is also common in Millennials. Researchers commissioned by the community investment platform CNote surveyed 1,000 millennials and found 64% of them agreed they felt disconnected from their community. Of those who said they felt generally estranged from where they lived, 57% said the issue caused them to feel lonely. Why are they not involved? 51% of millennials said they did not have time to participate in their community, 27% said they just did not know how to get involved, and 22% said they weren’t active because they don’t have any friends in the area.

There are many efforts to end the epidemic of loneliness and social isolation by reconnecting people to community and re-knitting communities back together. Efforts that create opportunities and spaces for people to come together. Community builder Fabian Pfortmüller is convinced that the solutions to disconnection involve going back to the places where humans have always found belonging and relationships: in small, local groups, clubs, neighborhoods, associations, schools, book circles, dinners, community centers, etc. These include hyperlocal formats like Tea with Strangers, 1 Million Cups, Creative Mornings, Citizens Circle that are very simple, repeatable and mostly driven by volunteers. There are also new forms of gathering emerge that speak to a younger audience that is hungry for spirituality and belonging, but doesn’t feel at home in traditional organized religion, such as Sunday Assembly.

It is also about building what Dr. Robert Putnam, author of the book Bowling Alone, calls social capital. The term social capital emphasizes not just warm and cuddly feelings, but a variety of specific benefits that flow from the reciprocity, information, trust and cooperation associated with social networks. When a group of neighbors informally keep an eye on one another’s homes, that’s social capital in action. Barn-raising on the frontier was social capital in action, and so too are exchanges among members of a support group. Social capital can be found in friendship networks, neighborhoods, churches, schools, clubs, civic associations, etc.

Ultimately we all thrive if we live in socially connected communities. A socially connected community is a place where everyone feels like they belong and they know their neighbors. In these communities people feel motivated to get involved, build relationships, and contribute to the creation of strong social networks. It’s also a place where spaces exist to promote people gathering with friends and neighbors. Socially connected communities are inclusive; creating opportunities for everyone to learn, earn, be welcomed, be heard and be engaged.

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