As a kid I can remember watching re-runs of the popular 1960s sitcom, Bewitched, and laughing as the nosey Mrs Kravitz repeatedly spied on her neighbour, Samantha – the protagonist – a witch who had chosen to lead the life of a ‘typical suburban housewife’.
Through her thinly-veiled ‘surveillance missions’ across the street, Mrs Kravitz was determined to out Sam’s secret. And so, she would ‘innocently’ appear at Sam’s door, asking for sugar, eggs, milk and anything in-between – all while hoping to catch her in the act.
Invasion of privacy aside, the show was set in an arguably nicer time. A time where popping next door for a cup of milk was normal; an action almost forgotten by today’s screen-connected world.
Nowadays, how many of us really get to know our neighbours?
Do you avoid your neighbours?
According to a study from Mastercard and the Happiness Institute, under a quarter of us are familiar with the face next door.
In fact, reportedly over 50% of us actively avoid them.
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Although this avoidance might keep us out of neighbourhood scrimmages, it’s having negative effects on our health.
Issues of social isolation and loneliness are of growing concern, and in recent years, cases have increased so much that it is now seen as a significant public health and well-being issue.
The loneliness epidemic
To look at its extent, a 2018 study from the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University examined loneliness in Australia. The study found that one in four Australians feel lonely.
And although loneliness is often associated with mental health issues such as depression, according to research from Brigham Young University, this isn’t all we have to worry about.
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The Brigham Young study found that feelings of loneliness can lead to a greater chance of premature death than both obesity and smoking.
It can also mean otherwise worse cardiovascular health, as well as an increased rate of cognitive decline in old age.
Simple as a ‘spoon full of sugar’?
Clinical advisor at Beyond Blue, Dr Grant Blashki, believes that local neighbourhoods could hold the secret to reducing the frequency of health issues related to loneliness.
“I think neighbourhoods have the potential to really counter some of that,” he said.
“Those little smiles, g’day in the street, can just make a huge difference. It’s such a small thing but can change the whole culture of a region.”
Mental Wellbeing manager at VicHealth, Irene Verins, has a similar viewpoint. She says that the most effective way to reduce the prevalence of loneliness is to “make people feel connected to their community.”
“Those communities may not be geographic – for example, they may be online for LGBTI youth or rural young people – but what’s important is they share common interests and develop meaningful connections,” she said.
Leader of the Brigham Young University research, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, suggests that better planning of our suburbs could also play a positive role. She says that it’s important for neighbourhoods be ‘walkable,’ and to include social spaces where people can meet up.
Words by Kathryn Lee
If you are feeling isolated or alone, remember there is always someone to call. Right now, it’s estimated that 3-million Australians are living with anxiety or depression. Reach out to services such as Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 for 24/7 support.
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