According to a new study, friendship really may be the best medicine. Since 2013, the small town of Frome in Southwest England has monitored how access to community groups affects population health—and the results are pretty incredible.
By pairing citizens with volunteers to help them pinpoint social organizations to join (i.e., choirs, lunch clubs, and exercise groups), the town was able to reduce hospital visits by 17 percent, compared to a 29 percent increase across the rest of the surrounding region. Frome also sees its Talking Cafés, informal spaces where people can gather to chat about local support groups and activities they have enjoyed, as another key to success. “No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population,” one of the study’s co-authors tells the Guardian.
In an age where the United Kingdom has appointed its own Minister of Loneliness, and more people than ever before are experiencing social isolation, solitude is building into a public health crisis. And research continues to support the idea that loneliness can increase our mortality risk, sometimes by up to 45 percent—more than obesity, alcohol abuse, and air pollution. It’s likely because feeling alone can trigger stress and depression, which in turn cause inflammation and a host of other physical manifestations.
“The implications of what has happened in Frome are profound,” the study reads. “It suggests that perhaps a third of the people currently in hospital are there not because they need more or better medication but because they are isolated individuals with poor networks of support.”
Though more research still needs to be done on the Frome phenomenon, it’s still an important reminder of the healing power of community—something we at mindbodygreen hold dear.