A 2015 article in TIME magazine argued that isolation and loneliness could be the next big public health issue. The research the article is based on found that “Social isolation — or lacking social connection — and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely, respectively increasing mortality risk by 29% and 32%.” This is not only a phenomenon among the older generation but something that is now being found across all generations, as our social networks become increasing virtual and where single person households are on the rise among the 25 – 40 generation. Yet this week, I listened to many of our members in the Nordic countries talk about how they are developing new projects and activities to support those who face isolation and loneliness. Some of the approaches are hugely innovative and ambitious. Developing thousands of acres of land in a capital city to provide housing that mixes those with care needs with those who do not yet have those needs, where as much of the utility needs will be placed underground to create more public and green meeting spaces. Diaconal urban planning was a new approach for me but one that makes lots of sense. We don’t need to look only at the four walls a person lives in but the wider community, and when that community is to be developed, why not do so from a diaconal perspective? What change could that bring to our public spaces? Other initiatives I heard about was the creation of new understandings of diaconal communities, intergenerational communal living in the heart of the city connected to an existing diaconal institution and where the community supported the institution through volunteering, as well as in living out the values. Sweden has one of the highest levels of single person households in Europe, and our colleagues in Uppsala are developing a new kind of day centre with targets those who are the most isolated. Working together with the public services they will go out and find those who perhaps no-one knows about and bring them the possibility of community and conversation.
We can all feel lonely from time to time but many of us do not need to live a lonely life – yet our members are seeing many people who do just that – and are finding innovative and ground breaking ways to change lives from loneliness to community – at the end of this week I am truly inspired!
Have a good weekend,