Social connection during a time of isolation

Social Connection

November 12, 2021

Humans are social creatures. We thrive in groups and depend on social connections for our survival. Unfortunately, high rates of social isolation, or a lack of significant social connections, has become the new normal for many communities across the U.S. in recent years. 

While individual life circumstances (illness/injury, immigration, etc.) can impact social well-being, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced unique challenges to connecting with others. For rural populations, recent mothers, and others, the pandemic has only worsened this feeling of disconnectedness. And for people of color, racism and other systems of oppression strive to isolate these communities even further.

Why is being socially connected so important to our health and well-being? Social well-being is strongly correlated to enhanced mental, physical and emotional health. We also can’t address past and current traumas due to structural and systemic oppression if we don’t acknowledge the importance of living in trusted, inclusive, and accessible spaces.

We should be looking at different systems like food, health care, housing and transportation to identify how to make them more inclusive and accessible to foster a sense of belonging, Risa Wilkerson, the executive director of Healthy Places by Design, encouraged us in a recent HCCC peer learning session. One way to do that is by investing in community-led solutions that align with community needs and cultural values.

Members of the WIN Network also emphasized during a HCCC peer learning session that community-driven changes will help share power and decisionmaking among community members. This will allow for meaningful participation in community processes and result in equitable processes and outcomes. When people feel valued and cared for, they are more likely to participate in creating a healthy community by shifting systems away from perpetuating trauma and toward dignity and inclusion.

Some of our grantees had a chance to share how they are currently strengthening connections in their cities and counties at a roundtable session during APHA’s 2021 Annual Meeting. Ten project teams led breakout discussions with a national audience to discuss how their community connections are advancing health equity and provide feedback to those looking to do the same. 

One of the teams from Greenbrier County discussed how they are working to improve population level health at the grassroots level during the session. Their Community Ambassador Program focuses on thinking about who is being left out, or not being served and developing community-led projects to address the needs of those specific individuals. One of the more isolated communities they are serving: LGBTQ+ individuals. 

“One of our newest ambassador teams, Greenbrier Valley Pride, submitted a mini-grant to support their efforts and threw our county's first ever pride celebration,” project team lead Julian Levine said at the session. The event provided resources for prevention of drug overdose, suicide, intimate partner and sexual violence, and sexual health education.

About 300 miles north in Cambria County, poor maternal health and low-birth rates for infants are a key issue in the community. However, the team’s Pathways Community HUB model has enabled local community health workers to connect mothers and their children to the care they need. 

“Our CHWs typically share the same ethnicity, language or life experiences as the people they work with,” Leanna Bird said at the session. These similarities lay the groundwork for strong connections between the CHWs and members of the Cambria community they are serving. 

Discussions from the roundtable emphasized that we all need support systems to thrive. So, as the world slowly begins to open back up, think about what role you can play to advance social connection. How can you impact and change the systems that are systematically isolating members of your community? And how can we work together to leave people feeling safe, welcomed and trusted by the people they are surrounded by?

To learn about this topic and for opportunities to increase your connectedness to the public health community and our Challenge grantees, keep checking our homepage for more events featuring HCCC communities as we begin our celebration of APHA’s 150th Anniversary, including a NPHW 2022 event in April! And if you attended the APHA Annual Meeting, you can access all of the presentations and connect with the presenters in the Annual Meeting platform

Watch webinars on the latest science

COVID-19 Conversations APHA National Academy of Medicine