Social connections are key for healthy people & communities

We’ve been talking a lot with our WeTHRIVE! schools and communities about resiliency and social connections. These are important topics as we come out of the COVID pandemic and respond to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection.

Last month, we looked at how bringing people together – fostering a sense of connection and community – can help build community resiliency, which in turn impacts our ability to be prepared for and respond to an emergency.

But the benefits of resiliency and connectedness go further than emergency preparedness.

Social connectedness & health

Heashot of Mary Ellen.

“When we look at the individual level, the idea of social connectedness considers the relationships you have with family and friends, and also with the people you work with and see in the community where you live,” says Mary Ellen Knaebel, director of health promotion and education with Hamilton County Public Health (HCPH). “These social connections affect a person’s health and can impact things like how long they live and their general well-being.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who have more social connections are less likely to develop health issues like heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression, and anxiety. Loneliness and isolation are related to higher rates of premature death.

Social connections are also important to the overall health of a community, whether the community is a school, place of worship, workplace, or an actual city, town, or village. “When people feel connected and part of things, the whole community benefits,” Mary Ellen adds. “Social connectedness helps communities, however they’re defined, to build that culture of health, safety, and vitality that is the mission of WeTHRIVE!”

How can we increase social connections?

The CDC has a long list of suggestions for how individuals can increase their social connections. It can be as basic as getting to know your neighbors, doing some volunteer work, or picking up the phone to keep in touch with someone you don’t usually see.

Mary Ellen says that increasing social connectedness for communities can be done through policy, systems, and environmental changes that affect where we live, work, play, worship, and learn.

“This is where our WeTHRIVE! communities and schools can and do make an impact. Communities may help people connect by sponsoring classes, like fall prevention programs for seniors. They can also make sure there are safe public spaces where residents can gather, like parks and recreation centers. These are just a couple of examples.”

Many WeTHRIVE! schools have already made significant strides in building social connections by addressing the mental health concerns of their students, families, and staff (see our four-part story here).

WeTHRIVE! is committed to helping our schools and communities strengthen social connections to positively impact the long-term health and well-being of residents and the community as a whole. Many WeTHRIVE! communities have been able to obtain grant funding to implement projects that foster social connections and bring people together in a variety of ways.