Cultivate social connection: New global priority

Posted on 01/09/2024 - 2:40 PM by MaryBeth Kurland, MPA, CAE, ICE-CCP | CEO, Commission for Case Manager Certification

Americans prize friendship. According to a 2023 Pew Research Center survey, 61% say having close friends is essential for living a fulfilling life—more than twice as important as having a lot of money, being married, or having children. But 8% of U.S. adults reported they have no close friends—not even one.1

Humans are innately social, yet we are growing more isolated every year. Notably, declining rates of social connection aren’t limited to this country, or even to wealthy countries. Loneliness has become a global phenomenon with serious health consequences—comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

As we move forward into 2024, I find it essential to pause and share a heartfelt reflection. The need for social connection and community resonate deeply with each of us. It's a fundamental aspect of well-being that we cannot afford to overlook. Our ongoing dialogue on this subject is essential.

That’s why the Commission for Case Manager Certification has developed resources to equip case managers and disability management specialists to address this issue. The Commission invited the lead editor of the Surgeon General’s 2023 report, Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation to present key findings during a CMLearning Network Webinar. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the Social Connection & Health Lab at Brigham Young University, also shared action steps case managers and disability managers can take to prioritize interventions, leverage family and community support, and identify ways to connect clients to nearby resources and groups that can help strengthen social connections.

Holt-Lunstad's webinar recording, podcast, and related issue brief are the centerpiece of a publicly available resource page dedicated to raising awareness and equipping professionals to address social isolation as an element of well-being. The page also provides links to the Surgeon General’s report and to Holt-Lunstad’s study that informed it, offering clear evidence so readers can tap into the facts and share them with colleagues and the community at large.

At the Commission, we will continue to add materials to the resource center to delineate the health consequences of loneliness and empower case managers and disability management specialists to prioritize interventions, leverage family and community resources, support groups and social services.

In November, the World Health Organization (WHO) established a new Commission on Social Connection to address loneliness as an urgent health threat.2 This WHO Commission is co-chaired by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who called out the issue earlier this year and highlighted its consequences in an official advisory, Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. The call to action is based on the findings of that report, which outlines health and other societal consequences related to the issue. The report also details a framework and recommendations to strengthen social connection and harness its healing power.

The health effects of social isolation are sobering. Older adults face a 50% increase risk of developing dementia from loneliness and isolation.3 In terms of early mortality, the effects of social isolation and loneliness surpass the risk from drinking six alcoholic drinks a day, physical inactivity, and obesity, as well as clinical risk factors such as high blood pressure, body mass index, and cholesterol levels.

The Surgeon General report notes that half of U.S. adults reported they felt lonely in recent years, even before the pandemic. Though, during 2020, CCMC conducted surveys that found that many case managers themselves carried a heavy burden as they continued to advocate for clients and connect them to the resources they needed in the face of their own health struggles and losses. Many risk factors for loneliness can be exacerbated by old age, such as hearing loss, financial struggles, or loss of a close loved one. But surveys reveal that young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 report higher rates of social isolation than those over age 65.

Assessing a client's social support and community ties is an approach that transcends traditional health care boundaries but can play a pivotal role in a client’s overall health and wellbeing. We know about social determinants of health such as economic stability and education. By recognizing the importance of social connections, case managers and disability management specialists are better equipped to provide clients with the multifaceted support they need to thrive.

It’s also critical for case managers and disability management specialists to reflect on their own need for connection. Because social isolation is associated with a lack of resilience to bounce back from emotional and physical setbacks, the Commission has connected this effort with its commitment as a network organization of the National Academy of Medicine’s (NAM) Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience. Advancing social connectedness is among the activities that can address rising rates of stress and emotional exhaustion within the health care workforce.

Beyond individual efforts, organizations also have the power to cultivate a culture of connection. By modeling the values that support friendship, kindness, respect, honesty, and commitment to others, leaders demonstrate their commitment to employee health and well-being. Each of us has the power to model the core values of connection, every day.

[1] Goddard, I. (2023, October 12). What does friendship look like in America?  Pew Research Center.

[2] World Health Organization. (2023, November 15). Who launches commission to Foster Social Connection. WHO launches commission to foster social connection.

[3] World Health Organization. (2023, November 15). Who launches commission to Foster Social Connection. WHO launches commission to foster social connection.