Social Connectedness: Ending Social Isolation Through Community Change

Impact Brief June 2021

The coronavirus pandemic demonstrated that resilient and healthy communities better prepare people to prevent and manage disease during times of increased stress. It also has shown us that social isolation, while not a new risk factor, does exacerbate the feelings of loneliness during trying times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds the Building Resilient Inclusive Communities (BRIC) program, which is implemented in more than 60 communities across 20 states. The program focuses on promoting individual and community resiliency in three major areas: nutrition security, safe physical activity access, and social connectedness.

Social connectedness is a relatively new area of focus for these states and communities and for public health, in general.

To provide support and training in this area, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD) partnered with Mental Health America as well as Healthy Places By Design (which recently published a report entitled, “Socially Connected Communities: Solutions for Social Isolation”).

The CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity invited NACDD to present on social connectedness and isolation during its National Training on May 3. More than 170 participants joined in the session entitled, “Building Resilient Inclusive Communities (BRIC) Project: Social Connectedness – Ending Social Isolation Through Community Change,” which included presentations from Patrick Hendry, Mental Health America, and Phil Bors, Healthy Places by Design. Two state BRIC Team Leads, Toby Beckelman, Hawai’i State Department of Health and Tiffany Bransteitter, Pennsylvania Department of Health, joined Patrick and Phil to share their state and community efforts around implementing strategies supporting social connectedness.

Hawaii is working with a coalition to activate A’ala park, located in an area that has a high percentage of low-income individuals and populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and other health disparities, with a historic walk and live mural painting that builds intergenerational connections.

The team also is working on scaling virtual, multi-language kupuna (older adult) outreach efforts to incorporate social connectedness resources and is training call center staff and community health workers on social connectedness guidelines.

Similarly, Pennsylvania is enhancing partnerships with AARP Philadelphia and Philadelphia’s Livable Community Network to tie its engagement of older adults to its nutrition security and physical activity objectives. The team and its partners will conduct outreach sessions to local senior groups regarding new raised bed investments in community gardens across Philadelphia, conduct trainings for We Walk PHL leaders on outreach and inclusion of seniors and pedestrian advocacy at park sites citywide, and host biweekly We Walk PHL sessions in the West Park/Parkside area.

“Mental Health America believes in the overwhelming importance of social inclusion in enhancing wellness and well-being for older adults.”

Patrick Hendry

Across all 20 states, BRIC teams are working on a variety of strategies to influence social connectedness at the state and local levels. Examples of strategies include, but are not limited to: states building and enhancing partnerships with their State Departments on Aging to consider whether social connectedness objectives are represented in their state plans on aging; and examining ways to build capacity and enhance existing systems, such as augmenting services that provide friendly phone calls to older adults, enhancing parks and public spaces to allow for safe congregation and walking/recreation among older adults, and finding ways to support congregate meals for seniors in designated open spaces.

View more information on the BRIC program and social connectedness.

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