Over the past several years there have been increased discussions locally and globally about “social determinants of health.”

The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as “conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.”

“These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels,” it says.

“The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities — the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.”

In other words, social determinants of health are underlying issues outside medical care that relate to health disparities in populations.

In Jackson Hole there has been a great deal of focus on housing and food insecurity as they relate to being determinants of health. One area that has been identified as a factor but receives less attention is social isolation. While we continue to have a small-town feel, our population is also growing and filled with people who are new to the area, are working several jobs to make ends meet or have come here for a season.

Many people who have just moved here have not yet built strong social connections. Others may find themselves isolated by stress, cultural and language barriers and busy schedules.

Social isolation has been identified as a social determinant of health in our community through our health needs assessment and more recently in the community forums for the Human Service Plan the town and county are working on.

Social connection is an important part of wellness, both mentally and physically. Connection creates a sense of self-value and belonging and is a key ingredient of interpersonal health.

“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship,” writes Brené Brown.

So what does it really mean to be socially connected? Does it mean having a lot of friends or attending frequent social events?

Not so much. In fact, there is not only a correlation in the level of connectedness, but also a correlation in the quality of the connection.

The levels of isolation and loneliness that people are reporting are increasing. More people than ever report they have no one they can confide in or turn to when struggling.

We have all felt lonely at one time or another. It is when it becomes chronic and begins to affect daily function that it becomes problematic and can lead to depression.

Taking action to combat loneliness means taking an emotional risk. If you are already feeling disconnected that can feel very intimidating, but there are ways to connect if you or someone you know is feeling lonely.

Remember, the benefits of connection are about quality, so you don’t have to go out to where there are a lot of people. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Someone can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely.

Reaching out to even just one person can make a difference. That can be done by calling and reconnecting with someone, or inviting someone for lunch, coffee or a chat. Get offline, ask questions and listen to answers. This can help if you are the one feeling isolated or if you notice someone around you who may be feeling that way.

Take notice of the people around you. Get to know them and what is going on with them. Share stories. That could benefit them and will also help you feel more connected.

If you notice some patterns or are worried about yourself or someone else, reach out for help. This time of year it’s easy to feel isolated and withdrawn.

One of the most amazing qualities of this community is how open, helpful and accepting we can all be when someone is struggling.

Deidre Ashley is executive director of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has a master’s degree in social work. Contact her by emailing columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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