Bridging and Bonding: Social Networks as a Fundamental Cause of Health and Healing

A social network is a network of social interactions and personal relationships. In the talk at the ‘Annual Healthcare Thinkathon’ event that took place on July 23, 2019, in downtown Indianapolis, Dr. Brea L. Perry expanded on how social networks are an essential consideration in health.

Below are the significant points from her presentation.

  • Over the years, there have been changes in the type of diseases that affect humans. However, notwithstanding, there has been a constant relationship between social, economic status, and health. Human resources such as money, knowledge, power, high social connections are often beneficial to the health of individuals who possess them.  To illustrate, let us consider heart diseases. A person with resources would be able to get better care and more often lead a better and healthier life than someone does with fewer resources. Therefore, social conditions play an essential role in health.
  • Fundamental causes of health and healing
  • Social conditions –> Meta-Mechanisms –> Intervening Mechanisms –> Health Outcomes

The path above shows how social conditions such as socioeconomic status, race, gender, etc. has ultimately affected health outcomes. Social conditions directly affect meta-mechanisms, such as status processes, identity processes, and relational processes. Varying meta-mechanisms determines intervening mechanisms such as health literacy, housing, neighborhood, diet, exercise, etc. that ultimately affects health outcomes.

  • Ego Network is consist of an individual (ego) and all the individuals whom the individual is connecting with directly. It also includes the interactions between those individuals. An Ego network includes family members like wife, children, nephew, etc. It also contains coworkers and friends. It generally contains strong and weak ties.

There are two types of Ego Networks; they are a) Bonding Network and b) Bridging Network.

  • Bonding Network- This ego network consists of mostly Individuals with strong ties to the “Ego.” It provides social integration and belonging, reinforcement of social roles, Instrumental and emotional support, and social regulation. They consist of mostly family and friends.
  • Bridging Network – This consist of both strong and weak ties such as friends and coworkers. They provide the Ego with Informational support and referrals, access to resources, cognitive stimulation, and physical activity.

Both of these networks play essential roles in health. Numerous studies have shown the relationships between social networks and health. Dhand et al., (2019) in their work titled, “Social networks and risk of delayed hospital arrival after acute stroke”, found that individuals with small, close-knit networks of family members or relatives arrive later to the emergency room when compared with individuals with networks of non-relatives/coworkers after an episode of stoke. This is because “closed networks are like echo chambers in which there is a tendency for everyone to agree to watch and wait.” This delay significantly reduces the survival rate. It is therefore advisable that a patient that suffers a heart attack should be in the emergency room within 6 hours.

Hence, reimagining patients within the context of social networks will provide in providing a better standard and more effective care to the patient. After all, better health means reduced health care costs as well as better quality of life for all Americans, regardless of their age. 


Dhand, A., Luke, D., Lang, C., Tsiaklides, M., Feske, S., & Lee, J. (2019). Social networks and the risk of delayed hospital arrival after acute stroke. Nature Communications10(1). doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-09073-5

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