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Reaching Across the Divide This Holiday Season

We are all so much together, but we are dying of loneliness

  • –Albert Schweitzer

It wouldn’t be the holidays without endless rounds of shopping, baking and parties, or without advice about how to cope with the stress of endless rounds of shopping, baking and parties. In a recent post, members of the Mental Health First Aid community generously shared their holiday self-care tips.

But there is a whole group of people for whom the stress of the holidays has little to do with being busy and everything to do with how they live their lives every day – lonely and socially isolated. Despite all the technology that promises to connect us, we are living in the midst of what former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy calls a loneliness epidemic. And being lonely is bad for our health. Research reveals lack of social connectedness is as much a risk for premature mortality as obesity and smoking.

Feelings of being isolated and alone cut across all age groups. Older adults may experience the loss of loved ones. Teens who spend more time on their phones and less time interacting in person report feeling lonely and depressed. And the holidays, with their songs that tell us to “be of good cheer,” can be especially difficult for those whose social ties are frayed.

The antidote for loneliness isn’t “tit-for-tat joy,” writes comedian and actor Patton Oswalt. “It’s other people being alive and present which spawns true joy.” In fact, people value human interaction more than receiving material items.

If loneliness is killing us, Dr. Murthy believes authentic relationships can help heal us, and that’s what Mental Health First Aid is all about. This evidence-based program teaches people how to reach across the divide, connecting with people who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use problem. It counsels compassion and nonjudgmental caring, while giving First Aiders practical tools to help.

If it is true that our presence is more important than any present we could give this holiday season, why not give yourself the gift of being trained in Mental Health First Aid? You can #BetheDifference in someone’s life when you know what to look for and how to engage people in open conversation. Find a course near you.

In the meantime, join our chat. On Thursday, December 21, we’ll be hosting a #BeTheDifference Twitter chat on tips and tricks for self-care and wellness during the holiday season. To join and share your tips, follow @MHFirstAidUSA on Twitter and use the hashtag #BeTheDifference in your responses.

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