Religion has role in fighting loneliness

  • July 12, 2019

Religion can play a key role in reducing social isolation and loneliness, suggests a new Angus Reid Institute poll.

The poll showed nearly a quarter of Canadians say they experience extreme social isolation and loneliness.

“Visible minorities, Indigenous Canadians, those with mobility challenges and LGBTQ2 individuals are all noticeably more likely to deal with social isolation and loneliness than the general population average,” the survey said.

“Those are troubling findings,” said Ray Pennings, executive vice president and co-founder of the think tank Cardus that commissioned the survey released June 17. “No Canadians should have to live in extreme social isolation or loneliness.

However, when loneliness and social isolation were examined in relation to religious participation, “it was only with those attending a place of worship that you’re really seeing the impact of religion there,” said Pennings.

“Those regularly attending religious services are not only less likely to experience social isolation, those who are not socially isolated are twice as likely to attend a religious service regularly as those who are very isolated,” he said. “That’s a pretty stark difference.

“Faith communities are fairly successful at bringing people together and reaching those who are isolated,” Pennings said. While people may go out to theatres, sports events and other public gatherings, there is “something significant about faith communities, that they are connecting on a more significant level.”

The poll broke respondents into five groups: the “Desolate,” who are both lonely and socially isolated (23 per cent); the “Lonely but not isolated” (10 per cent); the “Isolated but not lonely” (15 per cent); the “Moderately Connected” (31 per cent); and the “Cherished” (22 per cent).

The Desolate are most likely to be lower income, have less education and are twice as likely as those in the Cherished category to be single and live alone.

The Lonely but Not Isolated category is “the smallest and youngest group of the total population,” said Angus Reid, with the highest levels of education. Forty-three per cent are under age 35 and only 57 per cent are married or living common law.

The Isolated but Not Lonely group tends to be older, less educated and with lower incomes. Sixty-two per cent are married, but have most likely seen their children leave home, with 48 per cent having children over 18 years of age.

The Cherished tend to be most likely to be married (75 per cent), have higher than average incomes and are least likely to be living alone.

Pennings noted the survey came out the day after Quebec passed Bill 21, “which marginalized faith in public life.”  The law bans the wearing of religious symbols by members of the public service, including judges, police officers, teachers and social workers.

The survey “shows marginalizing faith is socially harmful,” he said. “There are public impacts, social impacts that affect fiscal health, mental health, even financial issues like the payday loan industry.”

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