In recent years events such as Ability Fest have improved inclusion, and are a wonderful celebration of diversity of ability.
How, when and where an individual participates in society is an important aspect of health. What’s more, an individual's choice to participate (or not) is just as important. A socially inclusive society is one that values all individuals, and all differences are respected. It is one that offers a wealth of choice for all individuals including well planned accessible community events such as Ability Fest.
Studies have found that social support and social inclusion strengthen both physical and mental health.
Last month I wrote about preventative health - recognising and understanding the determinants of health and how they prevent illness and disease is an important part of health promotion. This month we also had our first webinar for the year focusing on mental health. Given this, I wanted to highlight the importance of social inclusion and relationships to mental health and overall wellbeing.
I watched a TED Talk a few years ago that I have always remembered. It was about a study on centenarians (people who live to be over 100). The study examined the determinants of living to this age. While nutrition, exercise and reducing risk factors such as smoking were very important, the factor determined as the ‘most’ important element of living a long life was social relationships. Where these relationships were mostly positive, this was even more beneficial. Studies are finding that social relationships are key to how long we live and how well we live.
Social inclusion is key to social relationships. Of course, many of our relationships are formed through existing networks, family, friends, natural environments and so forth. For individuals with a disability, social inclusion is a really important factor in the development of relationships outside of family. This is a bidirectional relationship however, as more social support can lead to greater social inclusion which in turn leads to further social support and social relationships.
Research has found that social networks improve mental health through providing emotional support, companionship, and opportunities for meaningful social participation. They positively influence self esteem and resilience and have shown to reduce depression, distress, and anxiety. Ultimately relationships (generally) help us ‘cope’ with life’s ups and downs.
Relationships and inclusion have also been shown to positively impact physical health. Loneliness can lead to elevated blood pressure, increased anxiety and depression., and disrupted sleep patterns and increased cortisol levels (an important stress hormone).
For older individuals relationships can help slow down physical decline and even reduce the risk of dementia. For younger individuals it can reduce the risk of obesity, inflammation and high blood pressure.
Unfortunately individuals with a disability are twice as likely to experience social isolation; knowing this however, it is even more important to focus on social inclusion which can be promoted through community access, paid or unpaid employment and participation in clubs or organisations.
There are many organisations which promote community access and social inclusion for children, adults and elder adults with disabilities. Disability providers can also assist with supported community access and participation.
Social Inclusion as a Determinant of Mental Health and Wellbeing – Vic health- Social_Inclusion_Final_Fact_sheet.pdf (vichealth.vic.gov.au)
People with disability in Australia- https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/people-with-disability-in-australia/contents/social-support/social-inclusion
Strong Relationships, Strong Health- Strong relationships, strong health - Better Health Channel