It’s a new month, so it’s time to learn into another social work Grand Challenge. For the month of May, the AASWSW is addressing a challenge we’re very familiar with from our psychosocial social work training: the importance of social connections on our well-being.
May’s Grand Challenge:
Most of us know that to stay healthy, we need to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Did you know that strong social connections are at least as important part of our overall health as how we take care of our bodies? Recent research shows that adults with fewer social connections have higher rates of illness and are at greater risk of early mortality.
In the last decade, peer-reviewed studies show we’re less connected to each other than ever. All adults say they have fewer close social connections, and are more likely to feel like they lack close confidants. The goal for this month is to increase our our connectedness reduce social isolation among all Americans.
The AASWSW has identified two groups at particularly high risk of social isolation: youth and older adults.
Social Isolation in Youth
Childhood is a key time for learning to develop and maintain relationships, and youth who don’t learn this at a young age are at higher risk for social isolation in adulthood. Furthermore, isolated children and teens are at risk for school bullying, which can lead to depression, suicide attempts, and dangerous behavior.
Social Isolation in Older Adults
Older adults at at high risk for social isolation, due to a combination of factors that include decreased mobility and independence, stereotypes about the elderly, and loss of peers. Older adults who are socially isolated or who have limited access to the outside world outside of a spouse or caregiver are at a higher risk of elder abuse, including physical, mental, and financial abuse.
To end social isolation, the AASWSW recommends social workers continue to collaborate with other professions to learn more about and tackle the problem. Their suggested approach is multi-pronged, beginning in early life with appropriate caregivers and socialization for youth, all the way into older adulthood with community supports that serve all ages. Using technology is also recommended, by using computers and smartphones to help adults access a larger social group and professional help virtually.
You can start by reading the AASWSW’s full write-up on this Grand Challenge, Social Isolation is a Grand Challenge for Social Work.
When you evaluate clients, make sure to use a biopsychosocial global assessment and evaluate their social ties and connectedness. Refer clients to networks and communities where they can find community and common ground with others. At your own workplace or organizations, set up support groups and community gatherings for clientele and team members.
Finally, good practices for meeting this challenge starts at home. We learn to serve others as social workers and need to combine this training with good care for ourselves. Set an example by maintaining close and communal ties in your own life. Ensure you get the social support you need to continue to serve others in this challenge.