Virtual connections can combat loneliness

Positive virtual contact with neighbours is a key antidote to feeling lonely, according to new research.

Researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) say that even just one meaningful interaction, virtual or face-to-face, can have lasting mental health benefits.

"Data has shown us that loneliness is a killer - it can be as harmful as heavy smoking for our health," said Dr Tegan Cruwys, from ANU Research School of Psychology.

"This new research shows how community connections are a vital way to help combat loneliness.

"We found participants' mental health was improved from attending just one neighbourhood event, and the benefit was still felt even six months later."

Last month, online searches for 'how to stop feeling lonely' increased by 100 per cent, according to Google Trends.

Amid a global pandemic, the researchers analysed community connections made during Relationships Australia's Neighbour Day Campaign in both 2019 and 2020.

Looking at 344 different neighbourhood activities across suburbs in every state of Australia during 2019, they found that people who felt part of their neighbourhood after attending the event felt less lonely and had better wellbeing.

Early data from 2020, which takes in the experiences of almost 300 respondents, showed a significant increase in loneliness between early March and early April.

"In the context of stay-at-home regulations, we are seeing not only an increase in physical isolation but also in people's sense of subjective isolation from one another. This is a known risk factor for health," Dr Cruwys said.

"A large part of the answer to loneliness lies in feeling connected to a community.

"It is meaningful to feel like you are part of a community that values you. It doesn't have to be neighbours - it can be belonging to your family or your workplace.

"What is most important is that people feel a sense of belonging."

Dr Cruwys' 2019 research published in BMC Geriatrics found that connecting to the community was four times more important for mental health outcomes for retirees than the state of their finances.

"Social connectedness is on average four times stronger than financial security in predicting good health for older people," she said.

"While a lot of effort goes into preparing retirees to manage their financial future, most people often don't receive any support in managing their social future."

If you liked this story please follow us on Google News or subscribe to our FacebookInstagram or Twitter accounts.

Related news

PhD researcher Ms Daniela Espinoza Oyarce: "We found people who have depression alone have lower brain volumes in many areas of the brain"

5 Aug 2020

Your brain gets bigger if you are anxious and depressed

Depression is linked to areas of the brain shrinking in size - but when depression is paired with anxiety, one area of the brain becomes larger.

Rosemary Clifford with award

31 Jul 2020

ANU mental health advocate honoured

ANU PhD researcher, Rosemary Clifford whose work on mental health has helped more than 6,000 people has been recognised as the 2020 Young Canberra Citizen of the Year.

Related topics