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Loneliness and Social Isolation are Public Health Issues

Posted on April 18, 2019
By Heather Keam
social isolationLoneliness and social isolation are now being recognized as public health issues in Ontario. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David D William, released his annual report in February 2019 called Connected Community Healthier together. The report highlights the growing evidence that loneliness and social isolation affects our health:
  • Six out of ten residents say they have a very or somewhat strong sense of community. Only four out of ten know many or most of their neighbours.
  • Has negative effects on the body, mind and soul.
  • People who are lonely are more likely to be in the top five percent of health care users.
The report also discusses and highlights the need to understand how community structures have shifted over time and why residents don’t have a stronger sense of belonging:
  • Change in family and social structures - families are smaller and more spread out, and the increase in divorce rates and single parenthood is causing smaller and weaker networks.
  • Work and time pressures - there has been a shift in the workforce, more two income families, more contract work, multiple part-time jobs and less stability. These demands can lead to a decrease involvement in all forms of social and community life.
  • Cost more to be socially connected - the costs of social activities have become expensive and less accessible. It is cheaper to stay home.
  • People spend more time in their cars - urban sprawl and community design have led to an increase in drive time leaving less time for social activities
  • Technology (TVs, Smartphones, Computers) - Before technology became popular people used to go out and socialize at the movies or gather at each other houses to play games. Now technology has made it so that we don’t have to leave our homes to watch movies and we can now do so online.
The information in the report is very important and valuable for groups and organizations who are working in neighbourhoods to deepen the sense of community and building neighbourhood plans based on an understanding of the community context and content. Ontario Chief Medical Officer, David D William recommends three key ways that people in Ontario can build more connected communities.
  1. Being connected to other people and part of the community are essential to our overall wellbeing
  2. Complex systemic issues fragment community and threaten our sense of belonging
  3. Strong resilient communities are an effective way to tackle social isolation

A key takeaway from the report is that increasing connectedness and sense of belonging is a complex community issue. It requires organizations, groups, governments and citizens to work together. No one sector working alone can effectively address complex community issues.

Vibrant Communities – Cities Deepening Community has been working with cities and organizations across Canada for the past couple of years to address loneliness. We have built momentum within communities to bring residents together to create a necessary foundation for positive community change and to deepen community resilience. To learn more about how Vibrant Communities – Cities Deepening Community can support you in addressing the recommendations in the report visit our website.

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Heather Keam, Cities Deepening Community, Public Health, Loneliness, Isolation

Heather Keam

By Heather Keam

Heather is happy to be part of the Vibrant Communities team as the Manager of Cities, Cities Deepening Community. Before this position she was the Manager of Learning Services where she organized Community of Practices, learning opportunities, tools and resources for community change. Heather brings over 12 years of public health knowledge to this position.

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