To be grammatically correct, the question should be asked, “To whom do you belong?” No matter how it is asked, this question is a game changer.
Isolation and loneliness are at epidemic proportions. According to a 2018 survey from The Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than two in 10 adults (22 percent) say they always or often feel lonely, lack companionship, or feel left out or isolated. Add to this a recent Cigna survey revealing that nearly half of Americans always or sometimes feel alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent), 54 percent said they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well. Unfortunately, these kinds of statistics are ubiquitous. Comfort animals, cable television and social media have replaced human interaction.
This has huge implications for mental and public health. Scientists have known for years that loneliness and isolation are emotionally painful leading to depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. Recently, however, researchers have recognized that social isolation triggers cellular changes resulting in chronic inflammation triggering high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Has anyone noticed most of the school shooters have been individuals who have been described as loners or disconnected?
The human condition requires that we bond and attach to others. We were born with proximity seeking behaviors. When our needs are met as infants, we learn to socialize and attach in healthy ways. When trauma or neglect is prevalent in childhood, this proximity seeking behavior overrides judgment, self-regulation and personal power. We settle for unhealthy relationships, which, for some, is better than no relationships. Some adolescents attempt to escape pain by cutting, rebelling, using substances, becoming violent, or getting involved in early sexual activity experimenting with same sex or opposite sex partners. There should be no judgment or shaming. We must work together to combat this level of loneliness and isolation and target interventions to issues of the heart, not the behavior.
I watched a live streamed event from DC regarding National Mental Health Day, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) had an impressive speaker line-up including Colorado’s own Lynn Johnson, now the Director of the Administration of Children and Families. Speakers essentially used the same language to prevent depression and suicide. The words that were oft-repeated were belonging, connectedness and communities of care.
As a curriculum and programming director for public health strategies regarding optimal health, I realize there is a need to operationalize these concepts and make them user-friendly and interactive. The question that starts the activity is, Who do you belong to? Students answer that question by saying, “Parents,” “My friends,” “My family.” If Isaiah says he doesn’t belong to anyone, I lean in with love and caring to get Isaiah connected to at least one of his classmates. I ask the class, who will be connected to Isaiah? Who will volunteer to be his 2 o’clock in the morning friend? Students responded overwhelmingly, “I will,” We need to ask the right questions and help teens get connected. For more information: email@example.com or www.myrelationshipcenter.org
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