Today, the two biggest issues that cause isolation for individuals living with a mental illness are stigma and a lack of supportive community resources. Stigma is rooted in an uneducated fear. It robs individuals of their confidence, their hope, and their ability to access quality community resources. It lays the foundation for the isolation that many experience on a day-to-day basis.
Do you feel it today? You may have been hurt. You may not know where to go. You may feel overwhelmed.
“No one will understand me.”
“It’s easier to be alone than to go out and be rejected.”
If it feels easier to be alone, do we really belong together?
The answer is YES! If you find yourself overwhelmed and feeling lonely as you read this, there is hope and good news! Despite what the world tells you and the stigma that surrounds mental illness, you are NOT ALONE!
WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY?
John Cacioppo, one of the leading experts on “isolation” from the University of Chicago, presents research that may help us understand why isolation comes to impact an individual physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Cacioppo explains that we are “social species” who create emergent organizations and structures to work together and create “social resilience.” This social resilience is the very nature that helps “groups foster, engage in, and sustain positive social relationships, and to endure and recover from stressors and social isolation.” To state it simply, God created us to belong together.
In fact, our whole bodies are affected when we isolate. Cacioppo's neuroscience research reveals that isolation causes individuals to go into self-preservation mode, leading to difficulties, including:
- Lack of empathy
- Impaired sleep
- Personal insecurity
- Increased stress (cortisol levels)
WHAT DOES JESUS SAY?
Hours before the crucifixion, Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane with three of his friends (disciples), agonizing about what was about to come. “Then He said to them, ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death'" (Matthew 26: 38). Jesus was human too. He also experienced distress, misery, agony and a sense of hopelessness. Jesus can relate to you and the difficulties caused by your mental illness!
While in this place of distress, Jesus wanted his friends to “remain here with me and keep watch with me.” Jesus knew that in a time of need, isolation was not an option for Him. Although He already shared in the fullness of the Father, He also wanted to experience the nearness of His closest friends.
Love is just that. Understanding the reality that through Jesus, we will never be alone or separated from our heavenly Father. Love is letting others remain by our side, letting them in to any distress, misery, agony and sense of hopelessness that we face.
Jesus also said, “Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). Love is an act of keeping others company. Just as the disciples remained, we are also called to remain close to our dearest friends. By understanding God's love for us and pouring out His love to others, we can play a part in defeating isolation!
HOW CAN WE BE TOGETHER?
1. Quality of Normal and the Fun.
Find 1-2 people who you trust and who understand your life story and go do errands and fun things together. It doesn’t have to be heavy sharing about your pain or challenges all the time. Focus on enjoyable activities and fun conversations to balance any weighty talks you do have.
I remember spending time with some individuals in deep distress just having fun conversations, laughing, eating, talking about sports, running errands, doing life together. As we left our time together, one of the guys told me how much better he felt.
2. Grow with Healthy Community.
Find a supportive community that understands mental health needs. You can look through our list of groups for families or for peers that might be near you or other groups through Fresh Hope or NAMI. Many have found life-giving friends and support through these groups.
3. Do Something Small For Others.
One of the biggest ways to break isolation is to serve others. It doesn’t have to be huge projects; they can be small acts of kindness. For example, a woman with extreme depression decided to serve at her church's Benevolence Ministry to beat isolation and help others in need.
We belong TOGETHER! Let us know what helps you not be alone. What are ways you help others not feel alone? What are the creative options that can help remedy feeling isolated?
Joe Padilla | Co/founder & CEO
Mental Health Grace Alliance