Unfortunately, your browser is too old to work on this website. Please upgrade your browser
Skip to main content

Family, friends and community
Personal relationships | Community cohesion

Evidence hub home | Family, friends and community | Personal relationships | Community cohesion

People who often feel lonely are 6 times more likely to experience poor mental health
of people in households with the lowest incomes often feel lonely, compared to 10% of people in households with the highest incomes
People who don’t feel a sense of belonging in their neighbourhood are 4 times more likely to experience poor mental health

Why family, friends and community matter for our health

Family, friends and communities are the cornerstone of our everyday lives. The relationships we form, the support we have, and the interactions we experience can influence our health in a range of ways.

People who have good relationships with their family, friends and local communities tend to be happier, physically and mentally healthier, and live longer. Without these social relationships – or if we have negative ones – we’re more likely to experience loneliness and depression.

Personal relationships play an important part in our lives and a lack of positive personal relationships can have detrimental effects on our health.

In the UK, 6% of people feel lonely often or all of the time. This can have an impact on our health, particularly mental health. While loneliness itself is not a mental health condition, there is a strong relationship between the two. Research indicates that loneliness is associated with a range of psychiatric disorders, such as depression and personality disorders, as well as alcohol misuse and sleep disorders. There is also evidence to suggest that loneliness is negatively associated with our physical health, such as our cognitive ability, prevalence of cardiovascular diseases and even early death.

Social relationships can affect health directly and indirectly. Having positive relationships can reduce the physiological response to stress. It may also help people to gain and sustain good-quality jobs, as well as improve job satisfaction – both of which are important for health. On the other hand, relationships that have strained exchanges, such as those that are irritating or involve criticism, can cause stress and have a negative impact on our psychological wellbeing and health.

Social relationships may also affect health by influencing healthy behaviours. For example, positive social connections might encourage people to adopt socially-accepted healthy behaviours (eg eating healthier food, being active). On the other hand, relationship stress might lead to engagement in unhealthy habits as a coping mechanism. 

Strong social ties can – however – have unintended consequences for health outcomes. This can occur, for example, when people engage in alcohol consumption and smoking to feel accepted by their peers.   

Personal relationships subtopic - explore charts and data

Beyond the immediate relationships we have with friends and family, our connections within our communities can also have an important influence on our health.

Many factors can determine the quality of community cohesion in our neighbourhoods, and our sense of belonging, including but not limited to: having good social relationships, people working and taking action together, whether people have long-term plans to remain in the neighbourhood, and feeling safe in the neighbourhood.

Overall, feeling a sense of community belonging can act as an extension of our support network – research indicates that there is a strong positive relationship between having a sense of community belonging and our health, particularly mental health. Another study finds that people living in neighbourhoods with higher levels of social cohesion experience better mental health. Furthermore, good community relationships can – to some extent – mitigate the adverse effects of neighbourhood deprivation on people’s mental health.

Community cohesion subtopic - explore charts and data 

Explore subtopics within Family, friends and community
Community cohesion
Our connections within our communities can have an important influence on our health.
Personal relationships
A lack of positive personal relationships can have detrimental effects on our health.

Policy implications

  • Renew government commitments, with a specific focus on tackling inequalities
    The Government has taken important steps towards recognising the importance of social connection, such as launching the world’s first government strategy for tackling loneliness in 2018 and appointing a Minister of Loneliness. It is crucial that this commitment continues, particularly with a focus on those who are most disproportionately affected – younger people and women. This includes, for example, promoting loneliness awareness in schools, increasing availability of youth services, and providing support to women. 
  • Support adequate local authorities investment in relevant services
    Local authorities play an important role in fostering community engagement and social cohesion as well as ensuring community safety. They offer activities, spaces and services (eg libraries, culture and sports venues and events, provision of targeted support to domestic abuse victims) that enable connection, promote feelings of community belonging and support vulnerable people. Real term cuts in local authority funding over the decade to 2020 translated into a reduction of public services they can provide. Restoring local authority spending power is key to ensure adequate investment to support community engagement, social cohesion and community safety.
  • Enable effective third sector intervention
    Many third sector organisations take action on wider determinants that have a direct or indirect impact on health, even when the organisation itself does not have a specific health or health inequalities focus. Continuous effort should be put into promoting broad understanding of how charities’ social interventions can affect health. The Government could also enhance the third sector potential by supporting generation, use and dissemination of evidence on what works and promoting mechanisms to share best practices, including on grant making. 

Explore the topics

Local authority dashboard
Explore data for your local authority and neighbourhood

Health inequalities

Money and resources
Poverty | Income | Debt

Quality | Unemployment | Security

Affordability | Quality | Stability | Security

Active travel | Social exclusion | Trends

Family, friends and community
Personal relationships | Community cohesion

This is part of Evidence hub: What drives health inequalities?

Data, insights and analysis exploring how the circumstances in which we live shape our health
Kjell-bubble-diagramArtboard 101 copy

Get social

Follow us on Twitter
Kjell-bubble-diagramArtboard 101

Work with us

We look for talented and passionate individuals as everyone at the Health Foundation has an important role to play.

View current vacancies
Artboard 101 copy 2

The Q community

Q is an initiative connecting people with improvement expertise across the UK.

Find out more