The Community Cure
“When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone." ~Tennessee Williams
THE VANISHING NEIGHBOR
The disappearance of social networks and relationships in modern society– between people who are familiar but not necessarily our family or close friends – has created a sense of loneliness and isolation. The lack of a reliable social network and connection to community has a profound effect on the way we interact with our neighbors, manage our health care problems, protect our environment, resolve conflict and care for those around us. In Marc Dunkelman’s book, The Vanishing Neighbor, he writes about the transformation of the American neighborhood and the lack of a sense of community in the postwar era. He writes about how technology and the new routines of everyday life are creating more virtual connection through social media but “they have sapped the commonplace, incidental interactions that for centuries built local communities and fostered healthy debates.” How we bridge this gap will determine the care we provide to our loved ones and the opportunities we leave for our children and generations to come.
LONELINESS IMPACT ON HEALTH
Social isolation and loneliness have negative effects on our individual and collective health and many suffer alone with chronic diseases and mental health disorders. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies 10 critical social determinants of health necessary to foster positive outcomes in society. They have identified our neighborhood, our community and our social support systems to be key components to living a healthy meaningful life. Furthermore, in order to employ specific sustainable lifestyle changes we need a supportive social support system and community health culture behind us. https://www.change4health.org/it-takes-a-village/social-determinants-of-health/frameworks/
There is a move in some health care systems towards Shared Medical Visits (SMV) which brings together a group of patients with similar medical challenges or interests and is facilitated by a medical provider or allied health professional. SMV’s fosters the patient empowerment model by encouraging more collective action among the patient group as they journey towards a healthier lifestyle. This has been a more effective model in changing lifestyle habits than the traditional “one on one” 20-minute office visits. This is true in part due to the extended length of the visit (90 minutes) and the multidisciplinary team approach, but the “secret sauce” is what the patients themselves bring to the visit. We heal faster, deeper and more sustainably in a group or community setting.
Instead of spending 88% of our healthcare dollars on medical “sick care,” doesn’t it make more sense to funnel some of those valuable resources towards building and creating a culture of health in our neighborhoods and communities? Instead of calling it “health-care” we could call it “health-culture” and start building connections with one another, learning from one another and supporting one another in a way that mitigates isolation and loneliness and inspires us to make the changes we all know we need to make but just need a neighborly nudge. It is time to come together with a shared intention to take personal responsibility for our health and our communities.
BE THE CHANGE
The founder of the Neighbor’s Table movement, Sarah Harmeyer, says “I encourage you to be bold and invite some friends that are new in your life to your table. Maybe it's a neighbor, a mom of your child's friend, a co-worker, a friend of a friend or someone of a different race or age.” If you don’t have the neighborhood you dream about, create one. Be the change your neighborhood needs. http://www.neighborstable.com/ And as Peter Drucker says, “You cannot predict the future. But you can create it.”