On Combating Loneliness


image by : Lukas Rychvalsky

written 4/1/2019

A recent study by Cigna found that about half, or one out of every two Americans, feels lonely. (1). In the age where everyone and everything seem more closely connected than ever, especially by the Internet and social media, this statistic is particularly alarming. Moreover, a study by the CDC, found that suicide rates are also increasing by as much as 30% over the past decade (2). In fact, during junior high through my sophomore year in high school, when I felt the loneliness, I often had suicidal ideations. Thankfully, God, in His mercy and sovereignty didn’t allow me to go through with that option.

We were all created for community. Even when Adam was surrounded with animals, God acknowledged his need to be surrounded by at least one other person when God said in Genesis 1:18 (KJV), “It is not good that the man should be alone.” So, after that God created Eve from Adam’s rib. Even Jesus, in order to fulfill the purpose which the Father had for Him, had to be surrounded by people, at least some of the time.  Believers in Christ or not, we are all created to be with at least one other person. This doesn’t have to be in the context of a romantic or marital relationship, but we do need some kind of relationship with another to truly be content with our lives.

When I was growing up, I didn’t really feel connected with my community at school and I rarely attended church. As I consequence, I struggled on and off with loneliness throughout most of my childhood.  Many people, especially the younger generation, sadly feel the same way I did when I was growing up. 

Though we are, in some ways, more connected to each other than ever, through phenomena like globalization and the Internet, we can also be more isolated.  While we may have more virtual connections, our face-to-face connections as a society have suffered.  Because many people may see that their face-to-face connections are suffering, instead of confronting this problem head on, they may be tempted to retreat into virtual reality.  For instance, in my personal life, I found that when I am stressed and/or feel lonely, I tend to isolate myself more. 

One of the things that God has taught me through all that, is not to isolate. For instance, about two weeks ago, I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed to go to church!  However, later I decided I should try to go the evening Sunday school class at church, so maybe I’d feel better.  Not only did I feel better, but some of my friends were able to help me through what had been causing me to feel depressed in the first place!  Also, when we are part of a community, there is place for both accountability and vulnerability. (Yes, there are toxic communities where people will not feel safe to be vulnerable or accountable. In that case, I would find another, more genuine community, and not give up until I found the right one.) . In a community, we can learn from one another, be accountable, and can encourage one another. That is why, in Hebrews 11: 25, Christians are encouraged not to forsake the assembly of believers (i.e…Don’t neglect your local church community).

Another thing that God has been teaching me about combating loneliness is the connection between being lonely and the temptation to forge idols.  I know several people who have turned to idols, whether it be smoking, workaholism, alcoholism, gambling, or a number of other life-dominating vices, because they sensed a void, or loneliness, in their lives.  One of my pastors said that the reason that many people turn to idols because they have a mistrust of some aspect of the character of God.

So, God has been teaching me, that In order to combat true loneliness, I need to forsake any idols that I have used as a “filling in” for any of my perceived feelings of loneliness.  One thing that I have realized combats both the loneliness and idolatry is basking in God’s presence and learning about and believing His character.  In my class that I attend Thursday nights at church, when I learned about God’s steadfast love and that He would never leave or forsake me, through Scripture, I found that I became more joyful and more aware of His presence in my life. It goes without saying, that I no longer felt stressed or lonely that day, in dealing with life. Also, I was surrounded by a community of believers that were able to help and/or teach me to overcome some of my temptations to idolatry, so I would be less likely to fall into that trap again.

God has also been teaching me that some people are lonely because they feel afraid to forge connections with others, even though they may crave it.  This may be due to a number of reasons, but one of the major reasons I found in what I have observed with people around me, is that people don’t want to forge connections because they are afraid of getting emotionally wounded by another person again.  They have been wounded, manipulated, and/or betrayed by so many people in their lives; they would rather risk loneliness than be abused again. I don’t blame them for this reaction, but ultimately it will ruin them as well.  I used to be one of these people who was afraid to be vulnerable and really connect with others, and thus, I was constantly depressed and lonely. However, I found that when I became vulnerable and was able to be myself that I not only became less lonely, but I also became more confident of who I was and where I was going in life.  So, how was I able to be more “real” and “vulnerable” with others?  First of all, I surrounded myself with people that really had my best interests in mind and were supportive and caring, even in my darkest times.  I also strived to forgive those who had hurt me somehow. For instance, I forgave several managers at work who I had bitterness and anger against for a long time. Since a lot of people respected them, I sometimes felt alone.  However, when I let go of my bitterness and start to consciously think good things about them, not only did I not feel alone anymore, my relationships with these managers also started to improve dramatically!  Also, in order to not feel lonely for a prolonged period of time, we must persevere in forging relationships with others, even though it may be difficult at times. People may irritate us, be rude to us, or treat us unkindly, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on relationships completely.  Also, God may want us to learn something, even if it is how not to be, from these rude or irritating people.

We were not created to be alone. That is why children and adults who are isolated from others for a long period of time, may have irrevocable damage and trauma from that experience. However, when we experience true unity among one another, we can find love, joy, fulfillment, and community in our lives that gives us purpose and hope for this hurting, broken world.

Source:

  1. Jenkins, Aric. (1 May 2018). Study Finds That Half of Americans — Especially Young People — Feel Lonely Fortune. Retrieved from: http://fortune.com/2018/05/01/americans-lonely-cigna-study/.
  2. Hedegaard, Holly, etal. , Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. (June 2018). NCHS Data Brief, 309. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db309.htm.

Ten Common Myths about Mental Illness and its truths

Everyone has struggles whether it be a physical ailment or disability, a mental illness, financial issues, or other life issues.  I know many people that have struggled with some form of mental illness, some for many, many years.  What I find that all of us who struggle with mental illness have in common is that many people around us believe at least one (if not several) of these commonly held notions about mental illness. Here’s some of them, and the facts that counter these myths:

  1. MYTH: People who struggle with mental illness are “crazy.”  FACT: This is a hurtful and often, untrue characterization of people who struggle.  The fact is that many of us may be depressed and trying to overcome past traumas.  If you were in our shoes, you’d probably react similarly.  Also, we should try to refrain from using the term “crazy” to describe anyone, because it is similar to using the word “retarded” to describe something or someone who you deem “stupid.”
  2. MYTH: People who are suffering from depression, should just learn to “get over it” or “deal with things better.”  FACT:  This is also a very hurtful myth that a lot of people believe. When I am stressed at work, some people (I won’t name names) think I should “just get over it.” The fact is that people suffering from depression or other mental illnesses are often doing the best they can to do better to avoid the stigma that comes from their illness, but they can’t do it alone.  It’s not like we have an on and off switch that makes the illness go away in only one or two days. It often takes years to overcome. Otherwise, we wouldn’t struggle!  What we need is validation. What we need is understanding, someone to come along side and help us.
  3. MYTH: Taking psychiatric medication is sinful (i.e morally wrong). FACT: I don’t understand why certain people in certain religious circles believe this!  They certainly don’t typically believe this about heart medication, or medication to treat ulcers! If something is wrong with the wiring in your brain, you need to treat it somehow. Therapy doesn’t always work for this, nor is it always effective.  If you take medication for heart problems, for instance, then taking psychiatric medication should also be morally permissible, no questions asked.
  4. MYTH: People who hurt themselves (i.e self-injure) are often doing it for attention. FACT: First of all, many people I know who hurt themselves don’t want the attention. They just want to be loved and understood.  This is why in my own research, I have found that people who self-injure often hide their scars underneath clothing or other things. If they really wanted attention,  they would probably not even bother to hide anything! A lot of my friends I know who struggle with self-injury have a low sense of self-worth and may be self-injuring to relieve unbearable pain and anguish. Again, validation, love and genuine support are the keys to help them be able to stop self-harming.
  5. MYTH: When someone is considering self-harm or suicide, you should always call an ambulance so they can get the help they need. FACT: This is only true if they are actively suicidal or planning to do major self-harm.  Some (but certainly not all) people use this method as a cop-out so that they don’t have to actively support and encourage them themselves. Many people don’t know how or simply don’t really care.  Yes, it can be emotionally difficult to care for a person struggling with these deep issues, and you shouldn’t do it all alone. However, unless the person is actively considering major self-harm or being actively suicidal, calling an ambulance or sending them to the hospital, may create more problems for them in the end than good.  First of all, the mentally ill are often not treated well in hospitals, because people are afraid they will become violent or self-destructive.  However, if we took the time to try to understand and love them better, sending them to the hospital would not be needed. Also, a lot of mentally ill people are in therapy, so if you don’t have the emotional energy needed to support them, actively encourage them to talk to their therapist or doctor before they do anything harmful to themselves.
  6. MYTH: People struggling with depression or anxiety should just “get out more.” FACT: If we could, we would. The truth is these illnesses are often debilitating and disabling. This is often why it is a struggle to “get out and enjoy life.” What we need is guidance and a gradual introduction to the “real world” when we are better and are able.  What we need is encouragement and understanding from loved ones, who will be there when we want to talk about what’s going on inside our minds.
  7. MYTH: (A lot of people may believe this in one form or another, or unconsciously) People with mental illnesses are emotionally “weak” or “lazy.” FACT: This couldn’t be further from the truth! I’ve heard a lot of people imply or even say to me that because I get stressed about certain things or cry sometimes, that I am a “weak” person emotionally. The truth is that people who suffer from mental illnesses are often the ones that have had to deal with the most emotional baggage in their lives. Many have experienced abuse or bullying, or both, during some period in their lives.  Some of them have experienced deep, personal losses.  The fact that we are able to cry and “open” up shows that we are not weak, and in fact, strong and not afraid to be vulnerable to others.  Often, being able to let the feelings come out and talk about things with people, is the first step towards healing and dealing with underlying issues.
  8. MYTH: People suffering from mental illness just need therapy. FACT: Therapy can be very useful and helpful, but it is not a “one-size fits all measure” for everyone suffering from mental illness. Some people have struggled with getting the right therapist because of continuing stigma against their illness. For instance, someone who has a borderline personality might not be understood by a lot of therapists because of the commonly held notion in the medical community that they are very difficult to deal with and understand.  Also, therapy alone is often not the answer. We need not only therapy but often times medication and a strong support system to help us through the tough days.
  9. MYTH: People who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be violent, so we need to put protective measures in place. FACT: This myth irritates me more than some of the other myths out there! Yes, there may be a few mentally ill people who can get violent, but most of them are not violent at all.  To treat everyone who is mentally ill like wild animals needing to be caged is not only perpetuating this myth, but I believe it is inhumane as well.  I have heard of people being chained to their beds even though they wouldn’t hurt even a fly!  Or that they can’t enjoy music because the medical facilitators are afraid they may hurt themselves with earbuds! If one is that afraid, then watch them. Don’t suck the enjoyment out of an already bad and stressful experience for them!
  10. MYTH: Referring to people who struggle with mental illness: “It’s all in their heads.” FACT: Mental illness does not only affect people mentally but physically as well. For instance, in addition to feeling bad mentally,  people with clinical depression often don’t eat or sleep well, can have headaches, cramps, or an upset stomach, or feel much more physically exhausted than usual. (source: http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-symptoms-causes#1).  Also, people with anxiety disorders often experience physical ailments as well, such as sweaty palms, palpitations, nausea, dry mouth, shortness of breath, and sleeping problems. (source: http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/anxiety-disorders#1-3 )

These are just some of the commonly-held myths about people suffering from mental illness. I think we need to remove stigma about these illnesses and treat everyone, including people afflicted with mental illness, with more love and compassion.  What are other myths you have noticed people believing about mental illness? What can we do to dispel them? Please feel free to discuss in comments. Absolutely NO disparaging comments or your comment will be deleted! Thank you.