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Today is World Mental Health Day and recent research has shown that loneliness is now considered a mental health issue. In fact, the problem prompted the UK to appoint a minister for loneliness. And, Australia wants to do the same: federal MP Andrew Giles said,“…we need to consider responding to loneliness as a responsibility of government."
Feeling lonely might seem like a personal experience, but you're not alone in feeling it. In fact, half a million Japanese and 47 percent of American adults report feeling isolated or consistently left out.
A survey of 20,000 people revealed that the most populated cities in the world are the loneliest: London, New York and Dubai. When loneliness is a civic issue, your city becomes both the cause and the solution in combatting widespread feelings of isolation.
In keeping with world-wide efforts to raise awareness about the effects of loneliness, city planners and designers are looking to implement wellbeing solutions within your community. They include changes in architecture and public space, and apps that encourage interaction.
Cities that make space for community gardens help people connect during lunch breaks or after work.
Using technology to connect with people online isn't a new idea. Think Facebook or Instagram.
And, while there are new apps (TalkLife, Tastebuds and Happier to name only a few) that help you express your feelings, connect to like-minded neighbours or practice gratitude, the real solution remains in our ability to use technology to encourage connections in real-life, urban spaces. But how exactly do we do that?
Cities all over the world are calling on urban designers to reinvent how we come together. Amongst many innovative ideas, the following stand out:
Creating spaces and opportunities for communal meals in urban space is a therapeutic solution.
While social media apps can alleviate feelings of isolation, their impact can be fleeting or even increase social anxiety about the quantity or quality of friendships; our profiles only reveal the perfect parts of our lives and relationships. More long-term solutions lay within our ability to combine technology with the brick and mortar of a city to create real-life connections.
Services like our HERE POI tools that list community gardens or (kitchen-tool) libraries, mapping technology that helps you find neighborhood events in real-time and adapting public buildings to include multi-function spaces will help cities alleviate loneliness, cope with depression and create a lasting sense of belonging.