The Importance of Belonging
The Wrong Questions
For years, the human services profession has been preoccupied with three questions:
• What’s wrong with you?
• How do we fix you?
• What do we do with you if we can’t fix you?
The central function of our human services system, in my view, should be to help people who experience disabilities to develop and maintain “enduring, freely-chosen relationships.” Why?
“A sense of belonging,” writes Dr. Kenneth Pelletier of the Stanford Center for Research and Disease Prevention “appears to be a basic human need – as basic as food and shelter. In fact, social support may be one of the critical elements distinguishing those who remain healthy from those who become ill.”
Although the reasons why social support leads to better health are not entirely understood (one theory is that belonging improves immune function), the implications are profound for people who experience services. It may be that a great deal of what we see as pathology (e.g. poor health, mental health issues, problem behaviors, etc.), is, in fact, a symptom of loneliness.
Sydney Cobb, president of the Society of Psychosomatic Medicine, argues that the data supporting a link between loneliness and illness is overwhelming – that “social support can indeed protect people in crisis from what he calls a ‘wide variety’ of diseases. Adequate social support, Cobb says, has been proven to protect against conditions from ‘low birth weight to death, through tuberculosis to depression, alcoholism, and other psychiatric illness. Furthermore, social support can reduce the amount of medication required, accelerate recovery, and facilitate compliance with prescribed regimens.’” People who are suffering from a break down in social support are also more prone to cancer, hypertension, and heart disease. It’s true – you can die from a broken heart.
From The Importance of Belonging