Social isolation is defined as a state where an individual may have fewer social contacts, a smaller social network, and less engagement in social activity[1]. While social isolation is an objective absence of informal supportive relationships, loneliness is the subjective absence of informal supportive relationships.[2] In an era where everyone is digitally connected, we are still grappling with widespread social isolation.

Social connectedness, on the other hand, is the “sense of belonging and subjective psychological bond that people feel in relation to individuals and groups of others.”10 It should be noted that, based on these definitions, one can be socially isolated but not feel a sense of loneliness or can feel lonely despite being socially connected. People across all age groups and abilities are increasingly reporting feelings of loneliness and isolation. According to the 2017 Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario, people who experience social isolation have a 50 percent greater risk of dying early. Social isolation can be twice as deadly as obesity and as dangerous as diabetes. It also increases the risk of dementia. Social connectedness is associated with people having more emotional support and practical supports to help them succeed. Indeed, based on a recent national study in 2023, 61% of Canadians agreed to a moderate or great extent that sport, physical activity, and recreation can contribute to a reduction in feeling alone or loneliness and a further 19% agreed to some extent.

Just as physical infrastructure is important to the health of our communities (e.g., trails, parks), so is social infrastructure. Social infrastructure is the “relationship between (1) physical buildings and gathering spaces; (2) social activities, services or programs offered within these places, and (3) the interconnected networks within and across physical and social locations where people come together and enhance overall well-being.”[3] The sector already supports social infrastructure in communities and is, therefore, in a position to play an even greater role addressing the social isolation epidemic. Seventy-six percent of Canadians feel welcome and included through SPAR activities.[4]

 

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/302472164_Social_Connectedness_and_Health   

[2] Anja Machielse (2015) The Heterogeneity of Socially Isolated Older Adults: A Social Isolation Typology, Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 58:4, 338-356, DOI: 10.1080/01634372.2015.1007258

[3] Spaces to Thrive. Vancouver Social Infrastructure Strategy. Policy Framework, City of Vancouver. https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/social-infrastructure-strategy-policy-framework.pdf

[4] Measuring the Impact of Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation in Canada. CFLRI and CPRA, 2023. https://measuring-impact.ca/

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