Your health and where you live
Reasearch shows if you live in a place where people care about each other you do better
Wicklow Town. Photograph: Eric Luke
Where you live has a big an impact on your health. Medical research increasingly shows that if you live in a place that feels good about itself and where people care about each other then you will do alright.
The first thing a community requires is to feel safe. Anyone seeing the havoc created by the gang violence in Limerick and the ensuing relief when John Dundon was convicted is observing a community yearning for safety. Now that community can move on to think about health issues and how to respond to its poor health statistics.
In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam charts the decline of communities in the United States. He bases his argument on the disinterest in the once very popular bowling clubs. Using detailed analysis of civic participation he reports on the fall-off in local people joining their clubs and societies. Even those who join are taking less part in such clubs and are unwilling to take leadership positions which ensures they will unravel and close. This is partly due to the rise in individualism and the focus on the self, resulting in more sedentary inward-looking individuals.
This focus on self results in loss of a community response to local needs and to even defining such needs. A good example of this is the loss of local shops. Corporations gradually see fragmentation of a community as a business opportunity where people see price and convenience as more important than a local family providing local produce that allows them to stay in the community. The social interaction in a local shop is replaced by better prices in a big busy warehouse style emporium . Who can blame us in our current economic state?
When Eastern Europe moved from its stalled economy to western style economics, the resultant unemployment caused big rises in ill-health and early deaths. The more sudden the transition to western style economics the greater the morbidity and mortality. This change caused personal and community loss that has been measured in health terms. It takes a fairly uninformed person to argue for Eastern European style government but personal freedom has had big costs for them. They experienced community fragmentation in a few years, whereas we have had greater time to adjust and have mostly avoided the health problems. We haven’t avoided the toll on community however.
Practical things to help your community
Join something and take part. Putnam estimates that joining a club or society is equivalent to giving up smoking in terms of health benefit. It makes us less self centred, gives the enjoyment of acquiring a new skill and helps us cope with other people. The icing on the cake is to make sure someone runs it in order to ensure it lasts – maybe you.