Restoring Connections and Transitioning toward Hope

May 28, 2021

News Type:  Director's Corner

As social beings who anchor our sense of self through our relationships and measure our life’s journey by the changes that occur, connection and transition are keys to well-being. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has unsettled our connections to one another and forced an abrupt and unanticipated transition between pre-pandemic life and our current reality. Two powerful factors influencing our mental health have been greatly altered and challenged in the past year and continue to be uncertain as we move into the summer months.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we invite you to consider how connections and transitions impact mental health and well-being, and the powerful role of protective factors in increasing our resilience to adversity.

Many of us have faced great loss during this pandemic, including the loss of loved ones, employment, and continuity. Our children’s normal social settings have been disrupted, altering their usual routines and bringing increased concerns about academic progress. Our work lives have seen drastic changes and, for some, new technological adjustments. Often, the isolation of quarantine and distance from loved ones is all the stress a person can handle.

Connections and transitions allow us to have reference points as we measure our lives’ advancement.  However, with connections disrupted and unexpected transitions taking place, we may only see these changes because they were forced upon us by circumstance when, in fact, they are a routine part of life.

Disruptions in connectedness and unplanned or uncontrollable transitions are adverse experiences that can increase the risk of issues with mental health, social adjustment, work or school success, and suicidal thoughts. Although much attention is focused on risk factors for, and the potential negative impact of, adverse experiences, there is increasing recognition of the importance of protective factors that can lessen the effects of negative life experiences.  

Effective suicide prevention involves reducing risk factors and strengthening protective factors for suicide. Establishing or strengthening connections with others can help enhance resilience in the face of unexpected or unwanted transitions. The presence of supportive relationships with a family member, friend, teacher, or co-worker are key for promoting well-being. Likewise, concrete support, such as financial assistance, effective mental health interventions, or a healthy environment can help reduce risk and increase resilience. Protective factors for suicide can include:

  • Effective behavioral health care
  • Connectedness to individuals, family, community, and social institutions
  • Life skills (e.g., problem-solving and coping skills, ability to adapt to change)
  • Self-esteem and a sense of purpose or meaning in life
  • Cultural, religious, or personal beliefs that discourage suicide

Author and radio personality Tom Bodett is quoted as saying, “They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” As we tentatively begin to move out of the life introduced by the global pandemic into another new normal, we hope we can all keep an eye on the role protective factors can play in fortifying individuals and communities against adversity.

Dolores Subia BigFoot, PhD

Presidential Professor

SPRC Co-Director

Center on Child Abuse and Neglect

Indian Country Child Trauma Center

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Beverly W. Funderburk, PhD


SPRC Co-Director

Center on Child Abuse and Neglect

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center