Recently the Oxford County Wellness Collaborative (OCWC) brought together partners and friends from across Oxford County for a conversation to identify a root cause getting in the way of health in Oxford County. Over ninety people filled the library at Bethel’s Telstar High School for an evening of facilitated conversations aimed at first naming the obstacles to health, and then looking at those things underlying the obstacles—the root causes.

Root causes are things that, when removed from the chain of consequences that they create, prevent the undesirable final problem from happening. The causes that the groups came up with were grouped into categories, which was surprisingly easy because of how similar most of the causes were. Next, the group talked over the ideas that had surfaced and narrowed the focus to: social isolation and disconnection. This issue will be the focus of extensive exploration and discussion as the Collaborative works with community members to create a plan to improve health by making a difference around social isolation and disconnection. Other important topics that came up, like community economic development and transportation, will also be explored, especially in their connection to the root cause named by the countywide community.

Social isolation and disconnection has many aspects—including the physical distance that makes it difficult to stay connected to others and to resources promoting health, as well as the disconnection that people feel even when they are in close proximity to others. Why does being disconnected from others matter? Over a decade ago, researchers learned that social isolation is as dangerous to our health as cigarette smoking. Specifically, a person who lacks social connections through friendships, family, as a member of a group, etc., is as likely to die early as if that person had started smoking.

We need each other. Not many of us are well suited to the hermit’s life, and being socially isolated is detrimental for our mental, emotional, and physical health. So what do we do? Maybe we can start by simply reaching out to those around us who don’t seem to have much company to check if they’re all right or if they need anything. That small gesture could pay big dividends in the life of somebody who is isolated. Older people are especially prone to being isolated, so reaching out to elderly neighbors is doubly important.

You could also check out a Healthy Community Gathering near you. These are conversations sponsored by the OCWC that are intended to create new connections and mobilize actions that make our lives better. Call me at the number below for more information.

Brendan Schauffler is the Network Facilitator for the Oxford County Wellness Collaborative, a group devoted to making Oxford County the healthiest county in Maine and one of the most desirable in which to live, work, and raise children. He works for Healthy Oxford Hills, the local Healthy Maine Partnership and a project of Stephens Memorial Hospital. You can reach him at 739-6222 or [email protected]

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