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Fighting loneliness with neighborliness

A fellow nonprofit colleague recently forwarded me a new study, commissioned by healthcare benefits provider Cigna, on “Loneliness and the Workplace.” The results were heart-wrenching.

Of the 10,400 respondents, 61% classify as lonely. More than half report sometimes or always feeling alone, up six percentage points from 2018. Similar numbers report they always or sometimes feel isolated from others and that their relationships with others are not meaningful. Nearly half say they sometimes or always feel that they are no longer close to anyone, and more than six in 10 always or sometimes feel their interests and ideas are not shared by those around them.

Being sponsored by Cigna, the study of course goes on to reflect the health outcomes that result from loneliness and isolation: depression and mental health concerns — which is one of the largest contributors to long-term sick leave in the workplace — and numerous physical ailments as well. The research cites social media as an increasing cause of loneliness and isolation — certainly more than a little irony that something intended to connect us together can separate us further.

So much of our work in philanthropy and with our nonprofit agency partners is on a broad basis. We develop innovative programs to help as many people as we can. We work to scale our services. We try to use all the outcome-based metrics we can find to expand our reach — go big or go home.

This study is a subtle reminder, though, of the importance of a smile and a “How was your weekend?” to a coworker, a call to a friend that’s been on your mind because you haven’t heard from them in a while, or a conversation with the person in the checkout lane. When we try so hard to be saviors of the world, we sometimes forget that we should first be neighbors.

Helping the masses is both challenging and critical, but a simple way to start is by making one person feel a little better about their own world. As we’ve said in the past, “We can all be philanthropists.” We may not all be millionaires, but we all can enrich those around us by lessening their loneliness and isolation through simple neighborliness. Certainly, our region will be better for it — and I think each of us, individually, will be better for it as well.

Brian Fogle is the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

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