STRAIT AREA: “SPARK A Connection,” a day-long event that focuses on the impact of social isolation on individuals and communities, will be held on Septmeber 17.

Over 100 participants from community organizations and other stakeholders who support vulnerable populations at risk of social isolation in the Richmond County, Port Hawkesbury, Guysborough County, and Antigonish Town and County areas will connect virtually via Zoom, as well as in small groups adhering to public health physical distancing directives.

“We are pleased to be offering this event, especially at a time when social isolation and loneliness are so relevant,” said Kristel Fleuren-Hunter, Antigonish Town and County Community Health Board. “Research shows that the health risks of social isolation and loneliness are similar to those associated with smoking and obesity. In addition, social connectedness and social support are key factors in the promotion of good mental health, with social isolation and loneliness being closely linked to depression.”

Social isolation is even more prevalent due to geographical realities of rural Nova Scotia, limited transportation options, structural and cultural factors. The strong association between social isolation and poorer health outcomes emphasizes the importance of a collaborative response and has been identified as one of the priorities of the Guysborough, Strait Richmond, and Antigonish Town and County community health boards (CHBs).

The event will feature local initiatives and attendees will hear directly from community members who have benefited from programming aimed at reducing social isolation. Facilitated discussions will provide an opportunity for participants to share best practices and explore ways to move forward and alleviate social isolation in their communities. Keynote speakers Dr. Christina Victor, Professor of Gerontology at Brunel University, and Dr. Mary Patricia Sullivan, Professor of Social Work at Nipissing University, will provide an overview of the health risks associated with social isolation with particular attention to older adults.

Many of the communities in the catchment areas of the CHBs have a significant senior population of residents over 55 years old; Richmond County – 46 per cent, Guysborough County- 55 per cent, Port Hawkesbury – 38 per cent and Antigonish Town and County- 42 per cent.

“SPARK A Connection” is a partnership between Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library, the Guysborough, Strait Richmond, and Antigonish Town and County CHBs, and health promotion staff both in public health and mental health and addictions with Nova Scotia Health. Funding was provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Seniors, Age Friendly Communities Program and community health boards.