Depression: A Community Responsibility

By Janis Kupferer

On the occasion of Robin William’s death, I feel compelled (like many) to write about the topic. See I have depression and although I rarely talk about it, not doing so seems irresponsible on days like today.

The first thing I want you to know is that I’m not, nor are most with depression “mentally” unstable. Depression is a physiological condition of faulty chemical processing within the brain. To be depressed means to not be in complete control of your moods, feelings and basic temperament. Some people feel a little off, a little low. For other, yes, depression can reach terrible, terrible lows. For me it means having to always evaluate, "is this just a bad day, or is this the beginning of a bad period?" If the later, I immediately take action to correct the situation (running and Ketamin treatments are my godsend).

My belief (and while I’m certainly not a medical professional, I’ve studied depression and experienced it within myself and others enough to warrant an opinion here) is that while brain chemistry has a tremendous amount to do with depression, its onset or what starts it is a deep feeling of disconnection in the sufferer.

We’ve developed into a society that prides itself on autonomy. Not needing anyone, it seems, is heralded is a sign of strength. Living on one’s own, being independent is something for which to strive. (“Oh, good for you, you finally grew up and got rid of those roommates.”) Don’t get me wrong, being self-sufficient is wonderful and necessary. But too much independence isn’t wonderful, not if it leads to withdraw from your support system. Being alone, not “needing” anyone goes against human nature. People need people; connection; intimacy with friends, family and lovers. Just as your stomach groans without food because it is hungry, your heart groans without connection because it is lonely. It is an instinctual response that signaled to the species to get out of the forest and get back to your tribe—where it is safe. Women, during times of stress, even excrete extra levels of the hormone Oxytocin which drives them to seek others' company. However in modern times, many, many people have lost their connections to community (their tribes), and as a result feel extremely lonely, unsafe, and thus depressed.

Never been lonely you say? Great! Seriously, good for you—you obviously have an extremely strong community around you. But what if you moved to a new town where you didn’t know anyone? What if you got laid off from your job, or your job became virtual, or you retired and you no longer had that daily interaction with your “team”? What if your spouse died, divorced you, or you find yourself existing within a marriage without true intimacy?

What if your children went off to college or moved to another city miles and miles away and no longer showed for dinner each day as had been the case for the past several decades? What if your boot camp disbanded, you didn’t have money to continue with your travel group, or you simply find that your number of friends and acquaintances has dwindled to an almost non-existent level?

It happens everyday to people from all walks of life. They are going through their lives, taking care of all the “oh-so-important” tasks that occupy their time and prove their independence and suddenly realize that while they’ve managed quite efficiently to maneuver their boat alone, they’ve maneuvered it to a desolate spot.

According to the most recent General Social Survey from the National Science Foundation, nearly 25% of Americans report that they’ve only one close confidant—typically a family member. When family members are removed from that equation, the percentage becomes the majority. It is called social isolation and if the media is to be believed, it is now an epidemic in the US.

Okay, that is the bad news. So, what can you do about it?

Place a phone call, host a dinner party, invite someone over to spend time with you. Introduce a friend to another friend or to your entire circle of friends. Set-up a friend on a blind date. Join a gym and go—regularly, pick a hobby and then take classes or join other enthusiast via Meetup.com or other local groups, register for a dating or friendship site, go for a walk and talk to your neighbors.

And then do it again the next day.

If you feel bad that someone like Robin Williams, who seemingly was loved and cared for by so many could experience feeling alone and uncared for, then pick up the phone and call a friend or family member and tell them you care. Ask them what you can do for them … and then do it! (Seriously—do it!) It is our responsibility to take care of our communities, and this means taking care of the people who inhabit our communities.

If a friend broke a foot and needed to come stay with you for a while, most of us wouldn’t think twice about offering to help and truly committing to the offer. But somehow when a friend has broken their heart, we simply say, “it will be alright” and secretly wonder if it actually will be.

I’m in a unique position in that not only do I have faulty brain chemistry, but I also run a women’s friendship site. By virtue of the fact that I manage the site alone, I read and respond to all the profiles and customer support emails submitted. This means that I’ve read the story of over 30,000 women who seek new friendships or more simplistically, who seek connection, intimacy and belongingness with a community.

I’m here to tell you that the desire to belong is powerful, and exists in people of all ages, social situations, and economic classes. And I’m here to tell you that feeling cared for, supported and important can result from something as easy as a phone call, visit or invitation to “hang out.”

So, who are you placing that first phone call to?


1 comment:

  1. My belief (and while I’m certainly not a medical professional, I’ve studied depression and experienced it within myself and others enough to warrant an opinion here) is that while brain chemistry has a tremendous amount to do with depression, its onset or what starts it is a deep feeling of disconnection in the sufferer. Sheffield

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