Social connectedness, social support, and social integration are associated with positive health outcomes for women with disabilities.
In general, social connectedness is an important aspect of social support, and it has been found to help reduce psychological and physical problems.
Social isolation is a common secondary condition associated with any primary disability in women. In other words, the woman's primary disability may lead to less contact and connectedness with other people.
Social isolation has been found to leave both women and men with disabilities vulnerable for psychological and other health problems, including thoughts about taking their own lives or suicide itself.
Findings from a national study comparing women with and without physical disabilities suggest that:
- Compared to women without disabilities, women with disabilities have significantly greater levels of social isolation
- Women with disabilities with positive school environments, less over-protection, and more affection in the home tend to experience less social isolation
- Age, education, and disability severity do not tend to be related to social isolation in women with disabilities.
Building Mutual Connectedness
Social connectedness may help one to cope with stress. Women with disabilities may be more vulnerable to stress if they lack social support. In one article, women with chronic health conditions and physical disabilities reported that they benefit in many ways from mutual connectedness and relationships that offer safety, positive support, nurturing, and help in making meaning of lives that are continually changing as a result of health problems.
Each of the four types of isolation (geographical, economical, political, and social) is compounded by having a disability, thus elevating vulnerability for violence. Social isolation may increase the vulnerability of women with disabilities for violence and abuse. One study found that women with disabilities who reported that they were isolated from other people had experienced sexual, physical, or disability-related abuse within the past year.
Women with disabilities have reported benefit from health promotion programs that include opportunities for building connectedness, specifically, meeting together with a group of women with similar experiences related to disability. Clinical observations and feedback from women with disabilities participating in health promotion programs have indicated that women with disabilities yearn for and benefit from opportunities to develop and nurture mutual and caring relationships with one another, to heal multiple losses related to disability, and to attain optimal levels of wellness through connections with other women with disabilities. Group intervention programs for women with disabilities may help participants to break disability-related isolation, build connections among women with disabilities, share important information about resources, and confront internalized multiple oppressions.
Qualitative findings from a study conducted by CROWD suggested that women with disabilities perceived positive relationships as being essential for well-being. Ways for maintaining psychological well-being were identified, including interacting with people, avoiding toxic people, and being with loved ones and friends. Social interactions included talking to disabled friends, venting to attendants, and visiting or staying with family members.