Are you part of a community group? You should be. Your life could depend on it.
There are a few things that have got me thinking recently about the power of community.
One was the appointment by the British Government of the world’s first Loneliness Minister.
We could do worse than follow suit, given millions here also suffer from the social isolation that’s spreading like a silent scourge across every age group and culture.
Sure, many of us are dealing with divorce or relationship breakdowns, work stress, or the pressure of young families.
Unfortunately, many of us are dealing with those issues alone, whether we’re in the city, the country or the suburbs.
I spent several years as a Lifeline counsellor in the early ’90s, taking calls from those in need.
I’d love to see a government-backed campaign that doesn’t just point people to organisations when things go bad but urges them to join a community group in the first place.
My friends generally assumed all the calls were from people threatening suicide.
But they weren’t. In fact, 90 per cent of the calls I took came from the lonely.
It was shocking and harrowing to hear the sorrow in their voices, to know how isolated they were, to realise there was no-one they could turn to.
Another prompter for my reflections on community was the recent birth of my niece’s baby.
Having a baby can be tough (as well as wonderful).
But my niece told me that joining her local mothers’ group changed her life because of the connection she found with others experiencing exactly the same thing.
These groups can help give new parents a safe outlet for their frustrations, some support when things feel hopeless.
That small mothers’ group has the power to save lives.
We know mental health is a huge issue.
Victoria has just announced a royal commission and at our most recent Communities in Control Conference social demographer Hugh Mackay warned us the nation was in the grip of a mental health crisis.
He also said that the “state of the nation starts in your street”, pointing out that a bit of compassion in your neighbourhood can be the first step to battling social isolation.
All these threads have a one theme: our need for connection.
At Our Community we’ve taken note of the evidence that shows community connection is more important than eating well and exercise.
One study demonstrated that your chances of dying in the coming year were cut in half by joining a community group and cut to a quarter if you joined two.
I like to think of community groups as the heart that keeps our society flowing and the people within it connected.
Australia’s 600,000 community groups prevent the health budget blowing out further.
In fact, I’d love to see a government-backed campaign that doesn’t just point people to organisations when things go bad but urges them to join a community group in the first place.
I don’t want people to confuse joining a group with volunteering. It’s not the same thing.
In fact, I’m against the type of volunteering where big corporates force staff who are already working 70 hours a week to work for nothing. Those staff should be going home early and reading to their kids.
I’m talking about joining in.
You see, when you're part of the footy club, the mothers’ group, the arts group, chess club, school council, church or faith group, you're not just being altruistic.
You're joining in and joining up to a mission that that group is passionate about.
At Our Community we work with many great welfare-focused not-for-profits, such as domestic violence or homeless shelters.
But there’d be less need for these organisations – there would be less domestic violence and homelessness – if people were better connected in the first place.
If strong social bonds will help us lead longer, happier lives, why wouldn’t you find out about the community groups in your area?
You could start with the community directory on our website.
Denis Moriarty is group managing director of OurCommunity.com.au