According to the My Health My Community survey, almost a quarter of Metro Vancouver’s population could be suffering from social isolation.
Of the 9,000 surveys received so far, 15 per cent of respondents said they suffer from some form of social isolation as a contributing factor to their stress levels, says a release from Fraser Health.
“If you extrapolate this to the larger population, we could be looking at more than 300,000 people in Metro Vancouver having to deal with social isolation,” says Dr. James Lu, medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health.
“This means there could be a significant number of individuals who have no people in their network to confide in. It appears that zero is actually the loneliest number.”
There could be help however.
The purpose of the My Health My Community survey is to identify opportunities for services that community partners can work together to implement.
“Initiatives such as community gardens, adult day programs and childcare services all contribute to positive social experiences and a feeling of belonging,” Lu said.
More than 40 per cent of the people who reported being socially isolated said they have a weak sense of belonging to a community.
A stronger sense of community belonging is associated with more positive lifestyle behaviours such as regular physical activity, healthy eating and not smoking.
“The My Health My Community survey will give us a clearer picture of the relationship between feelings of connectivity, to the health and well-being of our communities at the neighbourhood level,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, medical health officer at Fraser Health.
Early survey results have also uncovered a link between social isolation and recent immigration.
About one in two socially isolated respondents are recent immigrants having arrived in Canada less than five years ago.
“Newcomers are usually separated from their traditional networks. Isolation prevents them from fully participating in the community,” says Queenie Choo, CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
But she said groups like hers can play an important role in helping new and established Canadians overcome social and cultural barriers so that they can better integrate into Canadian society.
The My Health My Community survey was created in partnership by Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s eHealth Strategy Office.
The survey results will help municipalities and health authorities develop policies and programs to help residents live healthier lives.
The survey can be completed at myhealthmycommunity.org until the end of March 2014.
People who are isolated can be assisted by helping them contact their doctor, community health office or HealthLink BC at 8-1-1.