As a therapist the one thing I am always curious about my clients is their support network. In my opinion, support and community is an integral aspect of staying healthier and happier. When it is absent overcoming mental illness can be incredibly difficult.
As we turn to technology more and more frequently our sense of isolation on the physical sense is becoming more and more exacerbated. Yes, the internet and social media does bring us closer together on some level but on another it diverts us from real life human contact and connection.
So what has happened to our real life human connections? Part of surviving as a human being involves connection with others. I cannot stress enough the value and importance of human relationships. Human connection sustains our health and wellbeing and increases our ability to learn and thrive as individuals.
One of the most fascinating studies I came across many years ago is the study of the town Roseto, in Pennsylvania, USA. It was this study that first developed my interest in the importance of community.
In the early 1960’s the town of Roseto came under the microscope of scientists. They couldn’t figure out why this small Anglo-Italian community had 50% less cases of heart disease than any other town in America. The civilians of this town drank, smoked, worked in toxic factory environments and ate fatty fried food. Still the low death rate and incidents of heart disease defied all odds. Most fascinating was there was zero crime rate. Yes, that’s correct, ZERO crime.
The Rosetta Effect
So what was so special about this modest small town? The tightly knit community. No one was ever alone. Men on their way home from work would hang out on the street drinking with each other, woman would cook in the kitchen together and parenting was done as a community.
Families had three generations living under one roof, the elderly were well cared for and not institutionalised nor marginalised. Families were close-knit, self supported and independent but when there were problems the reliance of the larger community was around to offer support and friendship.
What was even more interesting was as the children of this tight knit community moved away from their Italian roots and married into American way of life – single family, homes, picket fences, materialism, the rate of heart disease began to increase. So much so that by 1971, Roseta recorded its first death of someone under the age of 45 to die from heart attack.
I find this study absolutely fascinating. As I reflect on my own life I often yearn to live in a community such as the one in Roseto. I feel it is part of my DNA as a human being to live in community, to be supported in mothering, in work and in life.
In our culture feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression are all so prevalent. I strongly believe that our loss of community and ‘village’ living has strongly contributed to these experiences.