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Connections Matter When Building a Healthy Community

Connections in 2020

2020 has been a unique and challenging year for most people. Unwanted and unexpected changes in our daily routines have left us feeling a bit weary and frustrated at times. COVID-19, derecho, politics … it can feel like too much. And while there have definitely been some silver-linings, challenges abound and tend to carry the headlines on the news and in our minds.

What is a person to do?

I want to remind you of a few things you likely already know and encourage you to take a few new steps.

Reminder # 1: Connections Matter

Everyone is different, but you probably have friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. You likely interact with these diverse groups throughout your day. What you may not consider is that these interactions are very important. They are key to your overall health and wellbeing.

Action Step: Reach Out

A simple text to a friend or a phone call to a family member says much more than the content of the message. Unspoken, it also silently says: “I’m thinking about you.” “You matter to me.” “I like connecting with you.” “I value what you have to say.” As humans, we need to both send and receive these wordless messages. Each connection is like a small thread positively connecting you with someone else. These threads weave a complex tapestry in our community. The more you and others are connected, the more our community thrives. If you want to learn more about this fundamental concept or how to get better at it, check out connectionsmatter.org.

Reminder #2: Not All Connections Are Good

If you are reading this blog you are probably an adult, which means you were once a child (and you may now have children or grand-children yourself). It will likely not surprise you when I tell you that experiences in our early life impact our later life. Think about your own childhood. Parents, coaches, teachers, mentors — all of these adults played a role in your life. And while I hope they all played a positive role, we know that statistically not all of these relationships were healthy. I want to introduce you to a little-known, but critically insightful California research study from the 1990s. Studying the lives of thousands of youth, researchers correlated negative childhood experiences with negative physical and mental health outcomes as an adult.

The iowaaces360.org website summarizes the concept, “How a child develops is the foundation for a prosperous community in the future. Starting even before birth, a child’s brain is constructed through an ongoing process that continues into adulthood. But many children experience stress early on that can become toxic without adult support. Over time, this level of stress can impact behaviors and lead to poor health, learning, and social outcomes. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that can dramatically upset a child's sense of safety and well-being.”

Action Step #2: Stop Doing Bad Things

An action step every adult can take as a result of this study is avoid certain behaviors (e.g. violence, abuse, neglect, substance misuse) and help at-risk children and adolescents who are in precarious situations. Also, you can play a huge role in helping other adults develop the skills and strength to be good parents. It can feel uncomfortable at first to wade into another family’s business, but lead with your heart and let that person know how much you care about them.

Let’s recap. Caring relationships and connections in the community matter, both to your health and to the health of others. Using intentional strategies, everyone can build environments that foster healthy development, as well as create system change that leads to a great community.

Named the #5 Best Place to Live in the U.S. and a Top 10 Best Place for Business and Careers, Greater Des Moines (DSM) is a city where you can have it all. Learn more about what it’s like to live here.

Kevin Carroll, LMFT, EdD, FACHE

Dr. Kevin Carroll is the VP of behavioral health services for UnityPoint Health - Des Moines. He has also served in clinical and leadership roles at Broadlawns and Orchard Place. Dr. Carrollis a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Fellow with the American College of Health Executives.