Loneliness has health impacts
Last updated 10/24/2023 at 10:32am
Nearly every day, I encounter members of our community who are impacted by loneliness. As a behavioral health specialist with St. Charles Sisters Family Clinic, I help patients with mental health concerns like depression or anxiety.
When I meet with a patient, I always ask about their social support and what they do each day. Often, the answers I get start with the phrase “I used to be able to...” or “before COVID we had...” My patients talk about lost gatherings, from walking and coffee groups, to support meetings, to weekly friend meetups. Many gatherings dissolved during quarantine or changed in a way that they describe as less authentic, less engaging.
These individuals aren’t sure how to rebuild their lost connections, and feelings of isolation exacerbate their mental health concerns. Social isolation isn’t something that we should ignore or assume is a normal part of life. Loneliness is the root cause of several health and societal problems. If we can help people feel less lonely by connecting with others, we know we can make Central Oregon healthier overall.
Seeing the Sisters community come together to focus on loneliness and isolation is meaningful, and I believe, together, this community can make a significant positive impact on the lives of many.
At St. Charles Health System, we are also focusing on loneliness and belonging. Over the next three years, our Community Benefit department will give out grants to dozens of community groups that are trying to provide opportunities to decrease feelings of loneliness and social isolation. I’m proud that our health system is taking on this social issue, and I hope that in a few years we will see more connections, more walking groups, more support meetings, more meetups thriving.
I encourage people to treat scheduling social events and connection the way they might schedule a doctor’s appointment. You intentionally plan to walk your dog or go to the dentist – think about social activities the same way. They are key components to our lives, so we all need to make time for them and then keep our commitments. And, when you have an event, invite your neighbor, bring them with you. Continue to build connections with those around you.
I’ve learned social connectivity is important in my own life, and it’s something that I make a habit of. We can all get busy and sometimes the things that get cut are the connections that mean the most. I try to make a point of prioritizing these moments for myself, for instance, my sister and I make time to talk on the phone every day.
We can’t cure social isolation but, together, we can help make this a more connected and engaged community.