A newfangled intervention called community could be the most dramatic medical breakthroughs in recent decades — and for all ages. Results from a town called Frome in Somerset show that when isolated people who have health problems are supported by community groups and volunteers, the number of emergency admissions to hospital falls greatly.

The Compassionate Frome project was launched in 2013 by Helen Kingston, a GP there. She kept encountering patients who seemed defeated by the medicalisation of their lives: treated as if they were a cluster of symptoms rather than a human being who happened to have health problems.

Sometimes this meant handling debt or housing problems, sometimes joining choirs or lunch clubs or exercise groups or writing workshops or men’s sheds (where men make and mend things together). The point was to break a familiar cycle of misery: illness reduces people’s ability to socialise, which leads in turn to isolation and loneliness, which then exacerbates illness.

The study also shows that people without strong social connections, or who suffer from social stress (such as rejection and broken relationships), are more prone to inflammation. In the evolutionary past, social isolation exposed us to a higher risk of predation and sickness. So the immune system appears to have evolved to listen to the social environment, ramping up inflammation when we become isolated, in the hope of protecting us against wounding and disease. In other words, isolation causes inflammation, and inflammation can cause further isolation and depression.

It is time that we started to work together to create a supportive community for all ages. This is good for our health and wellbeing, our happiness and for the economy. It is obvious isn't it?

This story was inspired by a piece in The Guardian in February, 2018. You can read the full article here.

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