Islands is an intervention to address loneliness and social isolation experienced most acutely by younger people, ages 18-24, and older people, ages 65 and up.
The intervention is envisioned as a suite of programs co-facilitated by teaching artists at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) that bring cohorts of older adults and first-year MCAD students together weekly for 7 weeks in specific creative activity through which personal challenges and successes are exchanged and social bonds are created.
More specifically, Islands is creative research to explore mental health supports for loneliness and its related mental, emotional, and physical impacts through intergenerational contact (IGC). The 7-week pilot program (2022-2023) will focus on the two pillars of mental health: social connection and a sense of purpose. One of the strategies to accomplish this is the 1:1 pairing of older participants with student participants. The discreet subject matter and details of programs will be co-created by faculty and based on surveyed needs and desires of both cohorts. All programs will take into account current pandemic data and guidelines.
Loneliness is the discrepancy between one’s actual and desired level of connection and was cited as a national epidemic by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General in June 2021. Feelings of loneliness can lead to greater levels of stress, anxiety, purposelessness, self-worthlessness, sense of failure, and depression, which can result in substance abuse and suicide. It can also disrupt sleep which can result in impaired immune function, and impaired mental function which can result in cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function, increased risk of stroke, and premature mortality. More than 30% of college students reported feelings of loneliness prior to SARS Covid19. 60% reported loneliness because of the pandemic, and 83% have reported negative overall effects of the pandemic on their mental health. Meanwhile, more than 40% of people over 65 report feeling lonely on a regular basis.
Why intergenerational contact (IGC)?
IGC brings together participants at stages of life that report the most acute levels of loneliness but who rarely come into contact with one another outside of familial gatherings. These two life stages share the same mental health challenges, and yet, are the two that most often misunderstand and stereotype one another. ‘OK Boomer’ has become an internet pejorative, as have the characteristics of Gen Z’ers. Ageism is the last accepted bias, and it impacts both cohorts negatively. ICG programs dismantle generational stereotypes by humanizing and individualizing each life stage. In the case of IGMHP, it is expected that intergenerational contact will not only unmake ageist attitudes but also strengthen feelings of social connection.
Ideal participants will be interested in engaging with younger adults and creative participation in the form of games, music, art, and/or other activities, and can commit to weekly class meetings for 7 weeks. This program is free, and transportation may be provided.
Expected outcomes for participants are increased social connection, reduced self-defined loneliness, improved social confidence, learned tools to establish meaningful social connection, intergenerational respect, ageism awareness, and perspective. All participants will be surveyed before, during, and after programs for specific feedback and data on these outcomes.