Our need to connect with people is fundamental, and there is strong evidence demonstrating that meaningful social connections are important to our wellbeing. Statistics show that social isolation isn’t just bad for our mental health but our physical health too.
Social isolation hits people worse who are already affected by inequality, for example disabled people, people with learning disabilities, migrants and refugees. You’re also more likely to be isolated if you live in an area experiencing disadvantage, where your chances for social connections are reduced by lack of transport, unemployment, low income or illness.
Breaking down those barriers is possible, and when people start building connections they can improve not just their own wellbeing but also the opportunities for their wider community.
In fact, growing social connections – within and between communities – is an important first step towards changing a lot of other things. Having the support of a social network can make you, as an individual, feel better, but it doesn’t stop there. That network, strengthened with a sense of community spirit, purpose and hope, can then connect around ideas and act together to make the whole community a better place to live. Better social connections create more community power, and that is when change happens.
Stating the facts
- People with fewer social relationships die earlier, on average, than those with more social relationships. Improving the number of your social relationships reduces your risk of death as much as giving up smoking.
- 47% of participants in Local Conversations say they chat to their neighbours on most days – more than twice the average in England.
Our work on social connections and health
Social connections lie at the heart of our funding programmes. Increasing social links and ties is a key aim of our Active Communities programme. The final Ecorys evaluation report published in 2020 showed that 94 per cent of people involved in Active Communities projects strongly agreed that they were making new friends through the project. Our evidence also demonstrates how projects have reached people who were or had been previously socially isolated.
Fundamentally, we’re social beings and coming together and connecting with other people is healing in itself.
Project member and volunteer, Independent Arts, Active Communities
Café Chat is a project based in The Isle of Skye, Scotland, which aimed to improve and expand on existing services for adults with mental health needs to offer practical, social and emotional support in an informal group setting.
The research on social connections and health
Marmot, M., et al., Health inequalities among British civil servants: the Whitehall II study (1991)
Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L., Perceived Social Isolation and Cognition (2009).
Cohen S., Gottlieb B., Underwood L., (2004). Social relationships and health: Challenges for measurement and intervention. American Psychologist.