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Social Connection – Finding Our Way Out of Isolation

In an age of social media and online connectivity, the issue of social connection is drawing the attention of global health experts… but why?

What is the problem?

In November 2023, The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the launch of a three-year commission focusing on Social Connection. The purpose of this project is to highlight that the growing lack of social connection is a severe, ubiquitous issue.

Weakened social connection affects everyone across all age groups and socio-economic backgrounds, it is damaging our physical health, our emotional well-being, our economy and our communities. No-one is immune to the impact of a fragmented, socially disconnected world – this is a public, collective, global crisis.

Disconnection and loneliness increase our chances of experiencing certain health implications such as heart disease, anxiety, depression and dementia. These issues lead to expensive treatment as well as distress for the individual and their support network.  Furthermore, the ripple effect is being absorbed into the fabric of our society. The hope of the Social Connection commission is to influence leaders and practitioners to develop and promote intervention and policy on a scale necessary for the level of need we are facing, for it to be treated as global health priority.


What is social connection and what’s the benefit?

‘Social connectedness is the degree to which people have and perceive a desired number, quality, and diversity of relationships that create a sense of belonging, and being cared for, valued, and supported.’ The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Dr Bruce Perry describes the power of even fleeting connection with someone who cares, explaining how it regulates us and enables us to access higher, more cognitive parts of the brain. Meaning that if we are in regular contact with attentive others, we have greater capacity for logical thinking and problem solving.

“The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.” Esther Perel

How can we improve the quality of our connections?

Being present, engaged and at ease with a level of vulnerability can facilitate meaningful connection.

The CDC states ‘When people are socially connected and have stable and supportive relationships, they are more likely to make healthy choices and to have better mental and physical health outcomes.’

Authentic social connection applies to a collective group as well as reciprocity within meaningful relationships. In early development when human beings functioned as tribes our survival was based on protective connections; engaging effectively in a group was essential to our existence. 

Although necessary, if much of our social connection is behind a screen, we are not meeting our tribal need to feel safe within a group. Our brains have not caught up with the notion that we won’t be eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger if there is no-one around. We may feel insecure, alone and anxious which can be further compounded by a sense that we are unique in our despair, as though no-one else suffers as we do. Our internal world grows large, our ego becomes our focus and we may withdraw within it. Finding a way out of this interior sorrow and connecting with nature gives us a humbling sense of perspective; of who we are in the world. Standing beneath an enormous tree or on the edge of an expanse of water can redirect our attention away from our ego, diminish its power and remind us we are part of something greater.

Give it a go

An intrinsic ingredient for social connection is the involvement of another person, natural space or pet/animal; what makes you feel connected will be unique.

Below are some ideas of how we can tweak our current situations to lean towards connection:

Current situation (socially disconnected)Ideas to tweak the situation (social connection)
Watching television at home aloneSync calendars with a friend, watch something at the same time.
Find time to debrief virtually or face to face.
Working from homeCan you go into your place of work or shared work space locally?
Could you find a colleague to share a space with?
UnemployedCan you volunteer at a local organisation or offer some time
to a neighbour who may need help?
Supermarket self-check-outQueue for the extra few minutes and be present with the check-out person,
be vulnerable and curious.
Online/app dating or meeting new peopleAre there face to face options you could explore through friends,
family or local groups?
Feeling socially awkward –
avoiding connecting with new people
Start or join a book club, check out social media or initiate one within your community.
Having a book gives you a focus and something to talk about.
Staying inside to save money during the cost of living crisisConsider low-cost options:
– Ask a friend to go for a walk with a mug of tea
– Run/walk a 5k park run for free
– Take turns to host a coffee and cake afternoon
– Dinner swap night – find someone to share dinner.
One night at yours, one night at theirs
Absence of local communityGet to know your neighbours, knock on doors, walk their dog.
Become a befriender or find out what local charities operate in your area.
Texting a friend or loved one to say helloSend a voice note, video call them, or phone for a catch up.
Low mood, hopeless and aloneContact your GP and ask if they offer social prescribing.
Contact support helplines for someone to talk with. You are not alone.
Call 116 123 – Samaritans
email: for a reply within 24 hours
Text “SHOUT” to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line,
or text “YM” if you’re under 19

While we wait for the results of the WHO commission, have a go yourself. Change takes time, but it can and does occur. It may be the result of community projects or radical protest or maybe as a result of each individual, one small step at a time.

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