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Thursday, February 23, 2012

How Social Networks Improve Your Health

My neighbor, who is 44, just suffered a heart attack and underwent triple bypass surgery. His wife, with two young children, was understandably in a state of shock. We rallied around with home-cooked heart-healthy meals and helped with exercise. My family stepped up because we knew that our neighbors, without close relatives locally, could use our help and support.

So I felt a sense of connection when I read Mark Hyman’s recent article in the Huffington Post on how communities are often the best medicine for change.  He pointed out that the secret of an effective model for treating drug resistant TB and AIDS in Haiti lay not in new drugs or medical centers, but in the community. He notes, “Recruiting and training over 11,000 community health workers across the world…proved that the sickest, poorest patients with the most difficult to treat diseases in the world could be successfully treated. The community was the treatment…”

Community healthcare programs are not a new idea, but people are using this concept in innovative ways. For example, a post on Poverty Matters describes how training community workers to provide mental health support can make a huge difference in impoverished communities, where even primary health care is scarce. The Manas trial found that patients receiving such care showed a 30 percent decrease in common mental disorders.

In fact, as Hyman notes, “Much can be done with a little help from your friends.” He goes on to say, “Facebook and Twitter can not only help facilitate democratic revolution in countries like Egypt, they can link communities together in a common purpose to reclaim their health. Think ‘Occupy Health Care’ or ‘Wellness Spring.’”

Now, there’s a revolution that can bring about positive change.

Picture credit: flickr user Christiana Care

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