Today’s Help and Hope Southcoast campaign is celebrating Good Neighbor Day today along with AARP Massachusetts and #ReachOutMA, a campaign to tap the power of community to reduce social isolation for older adults.
While we’ve talked extensively about strengthening mental health before in this blog, one UMass Boston researcher believes, when it comes to well-being, we should also be looking at people’s social health.
“We talk in public health about mental health, and behavioral health, and physical health, and I think it’s time we start talking about social health,” said Dr. Caitlin Coyle, research fellow with the UMass Boston Gerontology Institute. “We know (social isolation) is a problem; we know this has negative impact and yet the same way that I think about how many times I go to the gym in a week, I should be thinking about how many times have I called somebody or talked with somebody just for social reasons in a week.”
Dr. Coyle spoke about social isolation and loneliness for older adults in an interview with AARP Massachusetts president, Sandra Harris, earlier this month. In the interview, she called loneliness and social isolation two sides of the same experience. Both are known to have negative impacts on health outcomes.
Both women serve on the AARP Task Force to End Loneliness & Build Community, the force behind the #ReachOutMA campaign. Their work is about “highlighting this idea that we all have power to do something to help this cause,” said Dr. Coyle. “It’s simply to reach out to wave to a neighbor, to smile at someone in the grocery store, to compliment someone, to really just remind ourselves that we’re all in this world together.”
For all the data, Dr. Coyle said communities have struggled to find solutions to isolation in older adults. To help the state be more successful, the task force pulled together stakeholders and communities who have focused on the problem, and put together a list of small actions that have worked for others.
All of the steps are about promoting connection.
“Just the small things that people can do to make people feel seen and make them feel connected to something,” said Dr. Coyle.
That connection can be to the community itself, to a cause or project, or to a faith community, according to Dr. Coyle. It does not have to be to another individual.
Want to help? It’s simple. Two examples from the ReachOutMA list include waving to a neighbor or giving a compliment to a stranger while picking up your take-out food or in the grocery store.