Last month we had the opportunity to pitch our vision for myCivitas at the UQ Start-up Academy pitch event. The experience helped us to consolidate our ideas and has got us very excited about our 'loneliness project'. Below is our pitch - summarised.
Feeling lonely can pose a bigger health risk for premature death than smoking or obesity!
And it may shock you to learn that loneliness is associated with poorer cardiovascular health and a faster rate of cognitive decline and dementia. The health effects can be equivalent to smoking half a packet of cigarettes a day.
Yet according to a recent survey, one in four adult Australians have experienced loneliness.
Australia, like other developing countries, is in the midst of a major public health crisis, and it could reach epidemic proportions within the decade.
If you are sceptical that loneliness is such a major issue, 30 years ago research was unfolding on obesity, and we were slow to respond, but today no-one denies the impact of obesity on individuals, society and on government’s balance sheets.
Undoubtedly society has changed. We once lived in multi-generational households, we chatted to people on the bus, we were involved in institutions, such as the church.
Fast forward to 2016, where the national census identified 24% of Australian’s live alone. We use more technology, have lots of virtual friends, and for many our working environment is changing.
We need a solution to this health crisis - and the solution is community.
At myCivitas, we believe we must take back community infrastructure. We want to take back our town halls, youth clubs, sporting centres and church halls. We want to address both the how and the where to ‘fix’ loneliness.
We are often reminded of the challenges- insurance, maintenance and religious affiliation. But we believe these issues are surmountable. The need to bring people together in their community for their own health should be the focus of the issue and not the administration..
Let’s make these venues into beautifully appointed spaces that we want to visit, where we talk, nurture and support, share knowledge and connect – and make ourselves well.
Much of the research and media commentary surrounding loneliness tends to focus on three groups - young, aged and ill. These groups are most deserving in their need for assistance. But they are not the only groups, and at myCivitas, our findings have identified other sections in the community where loneliness is hiding.
These groups include:
micro and home-based business owners
men over 50
women who just want to talk
people transitioning through employment classes or out of employment
As the myCivitas team members go out and talk to people in these different groups, we understand that social needs and experiences of loneliness differ for different groups.
We have found that home-based business operators or remote workers want a space to work, to meet and to learn – a space away from their own four walls which seem to be caving in.
We found carers want to meet with like-minded people to share their uncertainty, anger and frustrations, and have a safe place to examine the jigsaw that their lives have become.
While recently retired told us they were looking for purpose.
In other words, we need to revitalise our community hubs, many of which sit idle most of the time. These hubs will take on the personality of the community in which they sit. They will provide a drop-in space, but they will also be a place for each of the identified groups to have a day dedicated to overcoming loneliness, undertaking professional development and having the opportunity to collaborate.