If we ever needed a reminder that we are social beings who thrive on connection, the past year’s events gave us unmistakable proof. As staggering as the effect of social isolation has been on all of us, we can’t forget the toll it has taken on those who were already facing serious health challenges. Leaders in behavioral health often say recovery is about connection, which is why offering safe and comfortable meeting spaces for patients to interact should be part of any healing environment.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., made the case in his book Together that loneliness had become a public health crisis. A 2020 policy brief published in Health Affairs (suggests that social disconnection increases the risk of death from all causes. The brief argues that social connection belongs with nutrition and exercise as a lifestyle factor deserving national guidelines for the public to follow.
If illness is often caused or worsened by isolation, then social connectedness can hold the key to a healthy recovery. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommended in a 2020 report that healthcare workers be trained to address patient isolation. Facility leaders can step up by designing open-concept community spaces that encourage patient interaction in a calming environment.