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In 2018, loneliness hit the news, with experts predicting that 1 in 4 Brits are experiencing sadness from solitude. The issue isn’t just the emotion, but also the knock-on effect it can have on your health, both physical and mental.
For those grappling with loneliness and poor mental health, it can be really difficult to know where to start with rebuilding a social circle. However, if you, like many Brits, don’t know very much about your neighbours, then perhaps speaking to the folk next door would be a great place to start.
A new study by Legal & General reveals that 8 in 10 Brits believe that their generation has a weaker relationship with its neighbours than the previous generation. Is there a connection between weakening community relationships and the loneliness epidemic, and if so, how can we learn to rebuild?
The connection between neighbourly relations and the loneliness epidemic is explored in this recent article on community wellness, and the positive impact that spending more time in the community can have, has been proven by studies.
For example, the relatively new concept of social prescribing, where part of patients’ care involves supported integration to existing social groups within their local community, is cited as having had a marked improvement not just on loneliness but on overall health.
One English village which tried out social prescribing saw a decrease in non-elective hospitalisations of 17%, so there is evidence to show that investing time and effort in communities can have highly advantageous results for the individuals who take part. With this in mind, let’s examine the main issues preventing Brits from getting to know the people living nearby, and explore ways of connecting with our neighbours if we feel the relationship needs a little work.
One of the main factors influencing how positively we feel about our neighbours seems to be age. Nearly 1 in 2 millennials in Legal & General’s study said that they thought relations with neighbours were ‘much weaker’ among their generation than earlier ones, compared to just 1 in 4 with baby boomers. However, millennials and baby boomers also display different attitudes to how they interact with their neighbours.
Indeed, more than a quarter of millennials never speak to their neighbours, and twice as many millennials admitted to avoiding their neighbours altogether, compared to older generations.
With this in mind, it seems no wonder that younger generations feel they are facing a greater issue, as they are also less open to getting to know neighbours in the first place. Also, 2 in 3 Brits who say they consider their neighbour to be a friend also say that they chat to their neighbour at least once a week. With this in mind, and to support those who aren’t sure how to get started, we’ll now examine what kind of topics Brits most often chat to their neighbours about.
The most popular topic by far for striking up conversation with neighbours is family – yours or theirs. This was a topic that 37% of Brits said they had chatted to neighbours about recently. The second most popular topic, showing that the stereotype certainly isn’t wrong, was the weather, with 16% saying that it was a common talking point. Also high on the list of topics for a natter was properties, hobbies and interests, and 5% admitted to chatting about other neighbours in the area, too.
However, that isn’t to say that striking up a conversation is the only way to feel more involved in your neighbourhood. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, and the new data shows that a majority of Brits would happily go out of their way to help out a neighbour if the opportunity arose, with 98% of people happy to accept a delivery for their neighbour, and 86% would be happy to share small household items if a neighbour was in need, such as milk and eggs.
Other favours that a majority of Brits would be happy to offer to neighbours include taking out the bins, watering the plants, offering a lift somewhere and sharing CCTV footage if asked. Also, 2 in 3 would take care of their pet; 1 in 2 would invite them in to their house to visit; and, 40% feel comfortable enough to ask that they look after the spare key to their home.
As a finishing thought, a researcher for Legal & General said: ‘After taking our survey, one respondent wrote: “This got me thinking if I should be friendlier towards them!”‘. Maybe it’s just a case of taking the plunge and saying hello or inviting your neighbour around for a cup of tea – data suggests that they’d be keen to have a neighbourly natter.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg.
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