I’ve been thinking about the relationship between social connections, well-being and health lately.

In my last post, I wrote about Anne Fadiman’s presentation about the clash between Hmong culture and the Western medical system.  In her talk, Anne spoke of certain attributes of traditional Hmong culture (many of which endure in the U.S.today): focus on families and clans; traditional rituals; group identity and mutual assistance; and respect for elders.  She described the 3-day funeral of the father of the family she had written about.  There was much wailing and tears, so much so that the burial garb of the deceased was drenched in tears of the mourners.  Anne compared this to our typically less demonstrative culture (which she described as “dry”).  Her own parents were cremated and chose not to have memorial services.  Anne has come to appreciate the Hmong way.

Sunday’s StarTribune included a story about a middle class family who moved to the Minneapolis Phillips in neighborhood in the 1990’s and informally started a community building project. “Twenty years later, their ‘Banyan community’ has won recognition for its unique way of strengthening a fragile neighborhood. The Essenburgs have launched after-school programs, tutoring and mentoring programs, block clubs, a community council, and a web of personal connections among neighbors.”  The programs have helped neighborhood kids stay in school and successfully prepare for college.  The Essenburgs consider their hands-on work a labor of love.

In recognition that social connections are a good thing for people and communities, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation is sponsoring the Connect For Health Challenge, which will award grants to nonprofits, schools and local units of government to support efforts that strengthen social connections in low-income communities across Minnesota.  There are many interesting proposals which can be viewed on the website.  Research which demonstrates links between social connectedness and health can also be accessed on the website.

Connecting with others is something that we can all do and encourage, in our families, neighborhoods, and workplaces and as part of organizational and policy efforts.  It does make a difference.