Q2 campaign – what is social health?

What is health?
What is health and what creates good health?  Many people think that our health consists of a physical and a mental part, and that being fit, eating the right diet, getting sufficient rest and managing stress in a constructive way make us healthy. These elements definitely have a positive effect on our health, but it is important to see the totality of what health is. How do you explain that you can do most things right to have good health, but still feel lonely, depressed and anxious?  By including social health as an important part of our overall health, it can contribute to a more holistic and balanced approach to what health is.

What is social health?
Social health is a part of our overall well-being that stems from connection and community. Social health is about having close bonds with family, friends, and colleagues, and refers to our experience of belonging, experiencing social support, and our experience of being valued and loved (Killiam, 2023). Our most important and crucial source of meaning in life is our social relationships. No other factor plays a bigger a role in our quality of life as how satisfied we are with our relationships, and research shows that the likelihood of living longer increases by 50% if you feel you have a good social life (Emma Seppala, 2017). Unfortunately, far too many people are not satisfied with their social health, and figures from Statistics Norway show that as many as 44% of the Norwegian population experience some degree of loneliness (Statistics Norway, 2022).

Loneliness epidemic
As the figures from Statistics Norway also show, several researchers and health professionals claim that our social health is threatened and under pressure. A large report from the United States calls this a loneliness epidemic (Surgeon General of the United States, 2023). During the COVID pandemic, many people were deprived of their daily social contact with other people, and World Mental Health Day therefore in 2022 focused on exclusion and loneliness. They referred to surveys that showed that 1 in 5 state that they only have few people to count on in the event of major personal problems, and in a survey conducted by Opinion for the Red Cross, one in four young people stated that they have no one to talk to when life gets difficult (World Mental Health Day, 2022).

Loneliness and impaired social health are threatening to our health. Studies by Juliane Holt Lundestad indicate that loneliness increased the likelihood of death to the same extent as smoking 15 cigarettes every day. The studies also show that loneliness increased the likelihood of premature death by 26%. Furthermore, the study also showed that loneliness increased the likelihood of developing dementia by as much as 50% (Lundestad, 2021).

Positive effects of social health
Humans are fundamentally motivated for social contact. Without social contact, children will not survive, and the need lasts a lifetime. Good social relationships and supportive networks will have several positive effects on our overall health. People who experience having good and lasting relationships show positive scores on a number of variables when measuring health. They report a better quality of life, have a stronger immune system and better cognitive function as they get older. They recover faster from injury and illness, and live longer. Furthermore, your relationships can protect against cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and depression, among other things.

We can thus argue that the quality of your relationships is just as important a part of your health as the mental and physical, if perhaps the most important. The workplace is an important arena for meeting colleagues and creating good relationships and contributing to better social health.

What can you do to promote good social health at work?

  1. Be a good colleague: Check in with a colleague at the coffee machine and have a chat about anything. Alternatively: do something nice with someone you work with, unsolicited!
  2. Listening: We have two ears, and one mouth. There’s a reason for this: listen more!
  3. Make a phone call to a friend or colleague: Research shows that just 8 minutes on the phone with someone you care about can have a significant effect on both relationship and social health (Waldinger & Schulz, 2023).
  4. Propose a social initiative at work where as many people as possible can participate. E.g.: Ask someone to have a coffee or ice cream during a break.
  5. Ask someone for help at work. By showing that you need help, which everyone does, you show vulnerability and vulnerability connects us humans. Research shows that employees want to help other colleagues, but in order to be able to help, colleagues often need to be asked.