Metro Vancouver residents at risk from social isolation

EARLY results from the My Health My Community survey suggest almost one quarter of the people in Metro Vancouver could be suffering from social isolation.

Of the 9,000 surveys received so far, 15 per cent of respondents have stated that they suffer from some form of social isolation as a contributing factor to their stress levels.

“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.”

But if you are among those who feel isolated, help could be on the way. The purpose of the My Health My Community survey according to Dr. Lu is to identify opportunities for programs and services that the various community partners can work together to implement.

“The more people who complete the survey, the more accurate it will be,” says Dr. Lu. “Initiatives such as community gardens, adult day programs and childcare services all contribute to positive social experiences and a feeling of belonging.”

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 abstaining from 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,” says Dr.
Victoria Lee, medical health officer at Fraser Health. “As Valentine’s Day approaches people tend to focus on romance but the spirit of the day could also be applied to our communities and broader social networks.”

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. “That is why organizations such as ours 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 asks people to provide information about their health, lifestyle choices, community involvement and neighbourhood characteristics. 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 until the end of March 2014.

If you know someone who may be suffering social isolation or depression, help them to contact their doctor, community health office or HealthLink BC at 8-1-1.