Social Ties: Community Based Adaptation – Part 2

social ties community based adaptation 3

In my previous post I briefly unpacked the history of social network analysis. In this post I’ll discuss the importance and application of social ties in a general health, COVID-19, and natural disaster recovery context.

The benefits of connection amongst humans’ dates back to our tribal origins. Belonging to a tribe, something that many people in our modern world are unable to experience (ie, think high levels of loneliness), necessitates a process of social bonding. Tribes were the first communal system and nowadays we recognise the deep sense of belonging and support (as well as connection to place) that comes from being a member of a group.

What has been identified about the benefits social ties provide in a general health context? Umberson & Montez (2010) advise that there is an evidence base to support the following in regard to social ties: they affect mental and physical health as well as mortality rate; they are a resource to promote health information; they can benefit health beyond individuals by influencing the health of others through a social network; and they can have both short term and long-term health benefits for community members.

And how about social ties in the context of COVID-19, a new health condition that we are having to learn to live with? In the context of excess death rates from COVID-19, Fraser, Aldrich & Page-Tan (2021) report a strong association between excess death rates (ie, a comparison of pre versus post COVID-19 death rates in the US) and bonding social capital. Communities with higher bonding social capital had fewer excess death rates. They also found a similar trend for communities with stronger linking ties. Their suggestion, trust in authorities is important and information about the risks of COVID-19 is communicated amongst people via ties.

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Natural Disaster Recovery Research Findings:

But what about natural disaster recovery, what is known and understood at this time? Well, this is where it becomes very interesting. See the summary below:

Professor Daniel Aldrich – Sociologist & Natural Disaster Researcher
  • Social ties strengthened the collective identity of community leading to greater resilience.
  • Social connectedness lessened depression, anxiety and fears.
  • More connected communities recovered more quickly and more effectively than less connected communities.
Melbourne University – Beyond Bushfires Studies
  • Social ties positively and negatively affected recovery and mental health.
  • Being involved in 1-2 community groups or organisations was associated with better mental health and wellbeing
  • Risk of PTSD was higher if social networks were fractured
New South Wales – 2017 Flooding Findings
  • 10-33% of those people sampled experienced mental health distress
  • Informal social connectedness and belonging was associated with a decreased risk of mental health issues.

What might these findings suggest and lean towards in a time of COVID-19, climate change, uncertainty, and an increasing frequency of natural disasters? There is no doubt that further research is needed but it seems that the take home message is as follows…using social ties in a careful, community led and strategic way, may be a powerful tool that supports adaptation, recovery and improved preparedness.

How I can help

There is no denying that we are living in times of unprecedented change. Australian communities and organisations are at the forefront of learning to live with the disruptive effects of increasingly frequent and intense natural disasters. With over a decade’s experience, I help people recognise that hidden within adversity are opportunities for adaptation, recovery and growth.

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