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Building Community at Covenant House Vancouver: Supporting mental resilience and combatting loneliness

Close to home and around the world, we’re facing a loneliness epidemic. In a recent survey, more than one in 10 Canadians said they are always or often lonely. The situation is even starker among youth age 15 to 24, with one in four reporting frequent loneliness.

Why is that so worrying? Loneliness and isolation can have a powerful negative effect on mental well-being and physical health. According to some experts, loneliness may be as bad for the body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness has been linked to depression, low self-esteem, problematic substance use, sleep disturbances, illness, slow recovery from illness, and more.

Positive relationships are the ultimate antidote to loneliness, cultivating mental resilience and well-being. But in today’s world, building bonds is easier said than done. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness and isolation are on the rise, especially among street-entrenched youth, who lack opportunities and spaces to connect. This is why fostering community is such a priority for CHV.

CHV provides a continuum of services based on evidence-based practices that care for the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. This includes programming geared to helping youth come together, discover common ground, and build relationships.

We host a lively and packed calendar of extracurricular and recreational activities, curated by youth workers and excursion leaders based on the needs of youth and their requests. These range from fun and educational cooking classes and exciting game nights to mellow movie-watching, Pride-themed events, music jam sessions, gym activities, karaoke, arts and crafts, book clubs, and more.

The CHV art therapy program is another wonderful example of community building, with four open studio sessions offered per week. The goal of these sessions is “radical hospitality,” and everyone is welcome – to come and go, explore their creativity over a cup of tea with biscuits, or join in however they wish. An inviting atmosphere with soft music and aromatherapy extends the warm welcome further.

We’ve found that sparking new interests in the company of others is a great way for youth to build bonds. It also creates excitement and positivity about the future, which in turn cultivates mental resilience, or the ability to bounce back and cope when challenges like loneliness arise.

Break Out of Loneliness and Isolation: Tips for Finding Your Own Community

Coping with loneliness may seem simple on the surface. Just get out and meet people, right? But feelings of isolation can compound over time, shaking one’s self-confidence and making it even more difficult to reach out and connect.

Here are some ideas for breaking out of loneliness and building a sense of community and belonging:

  • Seek out groups and clubs based on your interests. By finding people who share your passions – music or crafts, for instance – you can connect with a ready-made community that’s eager to bond.
  • Try a new activity. Getting to know new people can feel easier and more natural when you’re tackling a task or hobby together. Knitting, gaming, hiking, stargazing?
  • Volunteer. Helping others is an excellent antidote to loneliness, and a reminder that you’re a part of something larger than yourself. You’ll meet like-minded people, as well.
  • Get active. Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects, increasing your confidence to interact and socialize. You could even try joining a training group, sports team, or pick-up league.
  • Connect online. Message boards, online communities, and even multiplayer games are a way to access and build communities that link people all over the world.
  • Build upon existing relationships. Social isolation can make reaching out seem difficult, but even a quick text to a friend or family member can make a big difference, reminding you of the connections you already have.
  • Plan low-stakes and easy activities. Simply grabbing a coffee, watching a movie, or going for an endorphin-raising walk together can strengthen bonds.
  • Be kind to yourself. Remember, everyone feels lonely sometimes – you’re not alone! Be patient and realize it’s okay to have ups and downs.