By Dr. Shawna Darou
In the past month, I have read two articles that have made a significant impression on me, especially on my view of depression, anxiety and addiction. What if, instead of focusing on the neurotransmitter imbalances, stress hormone levels, and addictive chemicals, we focused instead on the context of a person’s life and specifically on social isolation and loneliness.
The first article I read was about addiction, and honestly made the more sense to me than anything else I have read on this topic. It is called “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, And It Is Not What You Think”, by Johann Hari. This article explains that addiction is so much more than a chemical hook – what addiction serves is a replacement for the lack of human connection. We live in a society where most of us are disconnected and often isolated. We walk around in isolated states with headphones on, and communicate more with each other on social media than actually in person, and this leaves us feeling quite empty.
“But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live — constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.” – Johann Hari
Every day, I see people who are craving connection and community. How do we create this in our lives? I would highly recommend that you read the article in full, as I would consider many softer addictions to come from the same root: over-eating, over-spending, over-working even – whatever it is that we obsess about which then prevents us from being present.
The second article is called “The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us”, by George Monbiot. This article is a sobering look at our current society, and the drive for competition and individualism which is creating loneliness and social isolation rather than happiness and fulfillment. Even a brief look at the language that we respect and value says a lot: self-starters, lone rangers, self-made men and women, going it alone. To quote the article: “Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents – all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut. We cannot cope alone.”
So what do we do?
Since my focus is on healthcare, it would be negligent to ignore the context of my patients’ lives, which is creating stress and illness. Many of my patients spend hours and hours researching their issues on their own, feel unsupported by their society in making health decisions, and know that what is going on in their health is not simply ‘all in their head’. What I propose is that we create a community for education, learning from each other, and support where people actually meet in person, rather than listening to a video or podcast online. I am certainly guilty of this myself, with spending many hours researching, studying and writing alone, but feel very lucky to be working with people all day, and engaging in meaningful discussions regularly.
As my clinic grows in the next year, I will be envisioning how to bring more support and community to the healthcare I am providing, and have ideas such as the following:
- Weekly lecture series, as forum to discuss the latest in the evolving healthcare field with lecturers brought in to discuss timely and relevant topics.
- Mind-body relaxation courses.
- Community acupuncture treatments – this means having acupuncture sessions in a group with other people in order to improve accessibility and cost.
- Healthy cooking and food preparation classes.
- Women’s groups – for support, but not a ‘support group’ as if something is broken and needs fixing.
- Movie screenings – there are so many fantastic health documentaries available. Wouldn’t it be great to watch them with like-minded people and end with a discussion?
I would like to bring all of you like-minded and wonderful people together, as this will further fuel your health and wellness, and that of your families. Please think a little about how you can move yourself out of the age of loneliness, even just a little. More in-person meeting instead of online, taking your headphones off and engaging with people when you’re walking or at a café, and reaching out to support someone who you know may need it.