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The Urgent and Vital Need for Connection

Connection is an essential human need.


Warning: this article mentions health risks including suicidality & self-harm.

In a recent advisory published by the Surgeon General of the United States, it is stated that the country is in a public health crisis of loneliness and isolation. An article published in May of 2023 by the Health and Human Services goes on to say that even "before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately half of U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. Disconnection fundamentally affects our mental, physical, and societal health. In fact, loneliness and isolation increase the risk for individuals to develop mental health challenges in their lives, and lacking connection can increase the risk for premature death to levels comparable to smoking daily."


This is a crisis of CONNECTION.


When we set out to open CONNECT, we were painfully aware of the crisis of connection. The three of us co-owners, being long-time community organizers for collective liberation, and our various formal and independent studies in this area alerted us to this urgent and vital need.

We knew that the wellness industry has failed to address this gap in wellbeing, focusing mostly on individual health and spirituality as the cornerstone of "living your best life," largely putting the onus on individuals to change their behaviors to create their own wellbeing. Aside from being aware of how the design of societal systems create isolation and dis-ease, we could feel in our bones that community connection was a HUGE missing piece to the puzzle of wellbeing.


So, what is an "epidemic of loneliness" as stated in the advisory?


Trends in the areas of social networks, social participation and community involvement have been declining for years, but have hit dramatic lows in recent years. The pandemic was a whopping blow to social connection, with social engagement with friends and social isolation having severe changes (OSG, 2023, p. 14). The impact of this decline shows up in increased disease and mental illness statistics, with low income, racialized, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups being most affected.


The advisory states that “lacking social connection is as dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”


Lacking social connection is linked to increased risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, infectious diseases, anxiety & depression, cognitive decline, and suicidality and self-harm (OSG, 2023, p. 24-30).


While this might not feel shocking to some folks, being confirmed by measurable levels and the comparison to other major global health crises can feel sobering. For the vast majority of human history, our ancestors spent their lives in small band hunter/gatherer and agricultural cultures. It wasn't until the advent of mass transit, the industrial revolution leading to globalization that humans became hypermobile and technologically dependent and the number of close ties began to decline.


In a study by McPhearson et. al (2006, p. 358), they find that the nearly half of the American public report having no one or only one other person to discuss important matters with, a figure that tripled in less than 20 years (since the rise of the internet). That study was over 15 years ago.


Last week, the WHO (Nov. 15, 2023) announced a new "Commission on Social Connection" to "address loneliness as a pressing health threat, promote social connection as a priority and accelerate the scaling up of solutions in countries of all incomes." CONNECT Community Center for Wellbeing is both well-positioned to be a part of the solution, and motivated by these reports to be an active part of improving the wellbeing of our community.


When we had the idea to start CONNECT about 1 year ago, we thought that we might take advantage of an open local storefront to bring people together. As we began organizing, we became more and more aware of the essential needs for social and cultural health oriented spaces like CONNECT in a place like Missouri where racism and transphobia are centerpieces of the weekly news.


The benefits of social connection are huge. The benefits “extend beyond the well-being of individuals’ health to quality of life, education, employment, and economic outcomes (OSG, 2023, p. 34)” as well as natural hazards preparedness and resilience, population health, community safety and more.


One of the ways that we are responding to this crisis of connection is by offering our line-up of events and workshops.


Our events offer opportunities for people to come together in an environment that is not school, group therapy, a church group or a charity. While all of these places are potential sites for social connection, each present different access challenges including social stigmas and group affiliations that might deter marginalized groups from seeking connection there.


We aim to do something slightly different. We debated at length about the pros and cons of starting a non-profit instead of a multi-member LLC. Trust us, we are still in this conversation and revisit it often as this community evolves. We continue to explore partnerships with local organizations to be a part of a multi-modal approach to community wellbeing.


We have found that when humanity and a genuine desire for connection is centered, it doesn’t really matter which model we take action through, as long as we lead with our humanity intact.


We also strive to offer trauma-conscious connection at CONNECT. We recognize that many people feel safer when their interactions are held in the safety of a defined container. Providing 1-on-1 services such as coaching and massage, and group sessions like ecstatic dance, group coaching, yoga, meditation, sound baths and educational workshops, gives people a variety of choices for how to engage within spaces that have defined boundaries and guidelines for interaction.


The big problem, as you might already be thinking, is how to make these space accessible within a capitalist framework. Isn’t money a barrier? In the non-profit industrial complex, extractive practices and monetary confines can still be a barrier, as 501c-3s and other entities compete for limited funds and donor pools. As a business, we have chosen to design our model to operate within our stated values of ethical and profit-conscious practice, while striving to honor our own limits as small business owners. With “access” being a high value for us, we recognize that often marginalized groups get overlooked or excluded from the wellness and personal development industries because of cost.


This is why we started our Community Supported Wellbeing program.


When you attend any of our fundraising events, or register at the "sponsor" level for any participating workshop, you are directly supporting your fellow community members to heal from this crisis of connection.


Today we are launching our new webpage for group-focused services beyond the 1-on-1 services provided by our massage therapists, sound healers and coaches. These newly announced services are aimed at creating more group experiences that foster wellbeing. We are excited to be able to offer things such as private workshops and retreats for organizations and teams, speaking and presenting (on wellbeing, LGBTQ liberation, & more) at your event, as well as consulting and space rental at the CONNECT center in Tower Grove Heights, St. Louis for your own wellbeing event. Head over to our page to see the full lineup of group-focused offerings.

You can also contribute directly to the Community Supported Wellbeing program.

Give a gift to the CSW program


Do you know someone who would like to give a gift to a local profit-conscious connection-based small business? Do you know an organization that would like to partner with us to make the CONNECT space more available to the community for connection? Please get in touch.


References


McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Brashears, M.E. (2006). Social isolation in America: Changes in core discussion networks over two decades. American Sociological Review, 71(x), 353-375.


Office of the Surgeon General (OSG). (2023). Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community. US Department of Health and Human Services.


World Health Organization. (2023, November 15). Who launches commission to Foster Social Connection. https://www.who.int/news/item/15-11-2023-who-launches-commission-to-foster-social-connection




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