'We're all lonely': Vancouver event aims to end stigma around loneliness

The gathering, held on Vancouver's Arbutus Greenway, came on the heels of a new study released last week that said Vancouver and Toronto are the unhappiest cities in Canada.

Sunday's gathering came on heels of new study that says Vancouver and Toronto are unhappiest cities

Amie Peacock is the founder and executive director of Beyond the Conversation, a group that aims to offer all people a place where they can feel welcome and make friends. (CBC News)

Dozens of people gathered in the rain Sunday to simply say hello to one another and make conversation at an event organized explicitly to "end social isolation."

The event, held on Vancouver's Arbutus Greenway, came on the heels of a new study released last week that said Vancouver and Toronto are the unhappiest cities in Canada.

The study, based on data from Statistics Canada's Canadian Community Health Surveys and the General Social Survey, placed Vancouver and Toronto in a tie for last place among all 98 Census Metropolitan Areas and Economic Regions.

Amie Peacock, who organized Sunday's event, said there is a general assumption that seniors suffer most from loneliness and isolation, but people of all ages can be affected.

"At the beginning, we thought it was seniors, but in 2017, young people came to us and said they were socially isolated, too," Peacock said.

"Once we identify that we are isolated and we need help, we become more courageous and more resilient."

Welcome place

Peacock is the founder and executive director of Beyond the Conversation, a group that aims to offer everyone — seniors, new immigrants, refugees, and youth — a place where they feel welcome, can make friends, and learn from each other.

A report released last November by the Vancouver Foundation found that nearly one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds across the region experience loneliness "almost always" or "often."

Peacock said she saw the need for her organization after her mother immigrated to Vancouver in 2001.

"My mother was a very, very energetic woman," she said. "But in six months, her health came down very badly. She had to go back to the Philippines. [She had] no language, no friends. It was very isolating."

Deirdre Pinnock, who attended Sunday's event, said she used to stay in her home for days without speaking to anyone.

Deirdre Pinnock, right, speaks with another attendee at an event in Vancouver on Sept 9., 2018 aimed at helping people break isolation in the city. (CBC)

But she joined a knitting circle and became friends with other knitters, who now take trips to Whistler and go blueberry picking together.

She encourages everyone to join a group, say hello to people, and simply be kind. 

"I think that we're all lonely. And all of us just want to be around other people and just be seen," she said.

"Even the guy on the street who sits there asking for change just wants to be validated, just wants someone to go over and say hello."

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