Social connection is not only a human need, but also a public health priority. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, social isolation is a “deeply consequential” public health crisis that can increase the risk of various physical and mental health problems. On the other hand, social connection can lower stress, improve immunity, enhance mood, and extend lifespan. It can also foster trust, resilience, and civic engagement in communities.
In this article, we will explore how the Thriving Communities programs at San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) are using social connection as a key strategy to promote healthy lifestyle and prevent behavioral health issues in Archuleta and La Plata counties. We will also share some tips on how local leaders can create socially connected communities that benefit everyone.
The Thriving Communities Programs: Connecting People for Better Health
The Thriving Communities programs at SJBPH are a set of initiatives that aim to address three main areas: suicide prevention, tobacco education, and youth substance use prevention. These programs provide education, resources, and prevention tools to support behavioral health in the community. They also leverage the power of social connection to create a sense of belonging, empowerment, and well-being among the participants.
One of the programs is the La Plata County Suicide Prevention Collaborative, which works with various partners to reduce suicide rates and suicide attempts in the community. The collaborative uses data-driven strategies from the Colorado National Collaborative to identify and reach out to high-risk populations. It also provides grants for connectedness projects that offer social events, support groups, and peer support for people who are affected by suicide.
Another program is the tobacco education program, which works with school administrators and educators to implement tobacco-free policies and education. The program also collaborates with the Rainbow Youth Center and the UpRISE Coalition to engage young people in exploring tobacco as a social justice issue and advocating for social change.
The third program is the youth substance use prevention program, which works with community coalitions to prevent underage drinking, marijuana use, and prescription drug misuse among youths. The program also supports positive youth development by providing opportunities for leadership, mentoring, and skill-building.
How Local Leaders Can Create Socially Connected Communities
Local leaders play a vital role in creating socially connected communities that can improve health, well-being, and quality of life for everyone. Here are some simple steps that local leaders can take to foster social connection in their communities:
- Design, maintain, and activate inclusive public spaces. Public spaces such as parks, libraries, community centers, streets, sidewalks, and gardens can provide opportunities for people to interact, socialize, and participate in civic activities. Local leaders can ensure that these spaces are accessible, safe, welcoming, and reflective of the community’s diversity and culture.
- Support community-based organizations and initiatives. Community-based organizations and initiatives can provide valuable services, resources, and support for people who are facing challenges or seeking opportunities. Local leaders can support these organizations and initiatives by providing funding, partnerships, recognition, and guidance.
- Encourage social participation and engagement. Social participation and engagement can enhance people’s sense of belonging, purpose, and empowerment. Local leaders can encourage people to get involved in their communities by creating platforms for dialogue, feedback, and collaboration; promoting volunteerism and civic action; and celebrating community achievements and events.
- Address social determinants of health and equity. Social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age that affect their health outcomes. These include factors such as income, education, employment, housing, transportation, environment, discrimination, and violence. Local leaders can address these factors by implementing policies and programs that reduce disparities and promote equity and justice for all.
Social connection is not only a human need but also a public health priority. By creating socially connected communities that support people’s health and well-being we can build a more resilient society that can overcome challenges together.