By SUSANNA PENFIELD
The Socioecological Model
As individuals, we are complex — not only in the nuances of our own bodies and minds, but in the way we relate and interact with our surrounding environments. Ensuring individual health requires understanding the multitude of social systems and interactions that can impact an individual’s behavior. This scope is large, yet crucial in wellness work. Not only does this understanding lead to effective trauma response, but also to trauma prevention, the ultimate goal in wellness. We must not only mitigate damage to health but halt that damage before it begins.
The Socio-Ecological Model (SEM) is a theory-based framework to discern the multifaceted effects that determine individual and community-wide health. Developed for the purpose of identifying both the personal and environmental factors that influence behavior, the SEM contains four hierarchical levels:
1. Individual: Characteristics such as gender, age, religion, racial/ethnic identity, sexuality, economic status, literacy, nutrition and physical activity, attitudes and beliefs.
2. Interpersonal: Formal and informal social networks such as family, friends, peers, co-workers, religious networks, customs, or traditions.
3. Community: Relationships among organizations, institutions, and informational networks such as businesses, built environments, transportation, food systems, and health systems.
4. Social Norms and Values: Everything from local, state, national, and global laws and policies regarding the allocation of healthcare resources, to advocacy campaigns and media influence.
The SEM framework can and should be applied to a spectrum of public health concerns, from childhood obesity to domestic violence. Regardless of the specific issue, the most effective approaches to any type of prevention use a combination of interventions that occur at all stages of the model.
At the individual level, prevention may look like education and life skills training. Interpersonal intervention may include parenting or family-focused prevention programs, as well as mentor and peer programs designed to reduce conflict, foster problem-solving skills, and promote healthy relationships. Community prevention strategies must work at the structural level, improving economic and housing opportunities in neighborhoods, as well as the climate, processes, and policies within school and workplace settings.
Societal change may be the hardest to tackle, as it is both the most pervasive and the most abstract. However, it can be achieved. With intention and effort, small scale progress leads to widespread change, manifesting in increased global awareness of health concerns and heightened programming regarding prevention.