This year’s World Mental Health Day has a theme “Make mental health & well-being for all a global priority”. We would like to raise the topic of loneliness – growing with urbanization and accelerated by the pandemic – and its impact on mental health.
Fighting loneliness is medicine for mental health problems. It can be done in many ways, and that’s why everybody can contribute to that fight. We want to spread our knowledge on how real estate professionals worldwide can contribute to people's well-being – fighting loneliness and improving the mental health of their tenants in their own properties.
Loneliness is a big issue today, especially in the cities, where people live in apartment buildings. Even though they are living just a few meters away from each other, in real life they have no contact or any sort of social interaction unless you count a quick greeting in the stairwell.
The pandemic has exacerbated feelings of loneliness, according to a report by the European Commission's Science and Information Service (JRC). The report reveals, for instance, that online media reporting on loneliness and social isolation has doubled during the pandemic.
Why does loneliness – and fighting it – matter? Because lonely people are more vulnerable. They are more likely to have poor health, mental problems and poor cognitive performance. Loneliness even increases mortality risks.
For all these reasons many public actors such as the European Commission, WHO and GILC place a strong emphasis on combating loneliness in different age groups. For instance, research on loneliness in young people has shown that loneliness develops into a problem when it becomes long-term.
And where do young people often live? In apartment buildings in big cities. Often they have just moved on their own, away from home, even to a whole new city. They might be struggling with studies, finding a good balance between work and free time, and finding it hard to make friends.
For this reason, it is crucial to tackle chronic loneliness in an early stage, to prevent it from having a negative impact on their future.
But young people are not the only ones who live in cities and may find it difficult to be alone. There are also singles, divorced, single parents and elderly people, living on their own. What is common for all of them is that they do not share their day-to-day life with another person, and have most likely experienced – or are experiencing – loneliness.
Each individual can participate in fighting loneliness by making changes to their habits. As a resident, you can decide to greet every face in the stairwell. You can decide to ask them something other than the usual greeting - for example, how they are doing. You can dare to knock on your neighbour's door and borrow eggs instead of running to the grocery store in the evening. You can even offer the pie you baked to a neighbour.
These small acts can make a big difference. These small acts are small threads that create important social connections. They can be the highlight of someone's day, turning a bad wind into a good one before the day is over.
But also property owners have an opportunity to make a difference – if they are willing to play that role.
Property owners and managers can turn their buildings into vibrant communities, where people feel good, connect and help each other. As soon as you know people from your building that you can say hi to, ask how they are doing, or pet their dog and talk about the weather for a couple of minutes when passing by, it reduces the feeling of isolation.
But it can be much more. And property owners can be much more proactive in offering tools and places for the tenants to connect.
Create those opportunities and places for your tenants to meet and connect – and you will see how everybody suddenly seems to know each other, you’ll see solidarity building up, and you’ll see so many more smiling faces meeting each other in the hallways and at the yard. You will see the community start flourishing.
And behind that flourishing community are tenants – people, who used to be strangers to each other just sharing the same wall in between their apartments. People, who now have new people in their lives who maybe even called friends, and who live just across the corridor. They have a community, not just a building where they live in.
This, dear property owners, managers and real estate professionals, is how you can contribute to the fight against loneliness – which at the same time is a fight against mental health issues.
We at Hococo have given a lot of thought to these themes because we are committed to having a positive impact on the societies we operate in. Fighting loneliness is one of our key ESG focus areas.
We live in a world where technology and social media were created to make our lives easier and connect people. Yet why does it seem to have had the opposite effect on our mental well-being? At the same time, technology is fast becoming a prerequisite for modern living.
So why not use it to connect people for real, where they need it most – in their homes?