Living in near-empty condo building may be mental health risk

The Miami HeraldJune 22, 2009 

There is a school of thought that says having an entire condo tower floor or apartment building to one's self might be fun.

Think Tom Cruise in Risky Business, McCauley Culkin in Home Alone.

You could walk to the laundry room in your boxers. Dance in the hollow hallways like they're your own personal nightclub.

But all jokes aside, some sociologists say being an urban hermit can be bad for your health.

"I've been tracking the lack of community and ritual in our day-to-day living. I refer to this as 'the epidemic of loneliness,' " says Dr. Venus Nicolino, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist and relationship expert.

"Now with economic fragility and the current housing crisis, this epidemic has reached new proportions. We are all interconnected and we make meaning of our lives through contact with others; our lives are more meaningful and purposeful when we feel this connection."

When this connection is disrupted, humans can feel lonely and isolated, Nicolino said.

"Neighbors are our support system but not just in proximity; 'knowing' our neighbors creates meaning and connection with others."

Nicolino's premise is supported by the work of Dr. P.M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and co-founder of the school's Civility Project.

Forni has said that civility originates from "civitas," the same Latin word that gives us "civilization," and that people have always instinctively sought to live in clusters, partly due to our need for social interaction.

Loneliness at home can lead to depression or stress to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the risk or vulnerability factors of the lonely individual, according to Nicolino. "This is known as the stress-vulnerability model. Environmental stressors such as loneliness and isolation are certainly 'risks' which cause vulnerability to over all mental health issues," she says.

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