Determinants of Health

5. Social Environments

… [H]igh levels of trust and group membership were found to be associated with reduced mortality rates.1

A social environment could be a neighbourhood, community, city, region, province or country. Each layer connects us with others. When it is a stable, diverse, safe, supportive environment, the people living there tend to be healthier.

These ties can be fragile. HIV-positive women may be dealing with isolation, stigma, violence or the threat of violence. Many women have good reason to fear judgement and rejection. They are left with few people to trust.

Women who are assaulted often suffer severe physical and psychological health problems; some are even killed.2

The strength of a social environment is reflected in its institutions and organizations. Sharing resources and developing attachments with one another is just one of the ways to improve each others’ health. The challenge is to come up with ways to connect with people who have been shut out and shut down.

With each person who is abandoned to a life of isolation and abuse, our own environment grows a little sicker – less and less able to respond to the needs of others.

Service providers can have a crucial role in creating safer and more supportive social environments for women to talk about HIV, sexual health and other life concerns.

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1What Makes Canadians Healthy or Unhealthy?, Underlying Premises and Evidence Table, Public Health Agency of Canada, online as of June 2011