“How is your social support?”
I ask all my patients this question because it is a core factor for preventing and treating almost any condition and for improving wellbeing and happiness. The answer I get also helps address a key underlying cause of premature death—loneliness. Lack of social connection leads to an increase in stress, anxiety and depression and is an indicator for overall health and healing. For risk of heart disease, loneliness can be as risky as smoking.
Although the data is clear regarding the impact of social support on physical and mental health, very few Americans discuss it with their health providers. Our 2018 survey with Harris Polling showed that of those with a primary care doctor, few discuss factors that influence the mind-body connection such as mental health (36%) and spiritual health (10%).
These gaps in patient-doctor conversations are startling. But there is hope as the next generation of providers and patients enter the health care system.
Younger patients want more.
According to the survey, younger patients are looking for options that fit their lifestyle and personal needs. This generational shift proves that more and more patients will be seeking out ways to address the underlying causes of health in a holistic manner. We need to be ready. Integrative health is the way to respond to these changes.
During the holidays, social isolation becomes exaggerated. The gap widens between those who are surrounded by family and friends, and those who aren’t.
It’s time to identify and address the social factors that impact health. Let’s all do our part to stop the loneliness epidemic. Reach out to someone you know who might be alone. If you are alone, join a social group and participate in activities during the holidays.