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In difficult times, we search for answers, meaning or messages of hope. Sometimes we find clichés, and sometimes they are what we need.
There is a counseling concept that helps us cope with challenges by replacing negative beliefs or catastrophic thinking with messages of optimism or hope that change our view of our reality. These messages of hope can take the form of clichés.
In the past year, a few clichés caught my attention due to their relevance to the times as well as the contradictions they pose.
I am a clinical social worker and chief executive officer of a nonprofit in the employee assistance program/mental health/substance use disorder fields. I’ll reflect on the past year and its impact on the future from my little corner of the world.
We are all in this together
In a way, I understand this battle cry. We are all experiencing COVID-19, social unrest and political divisiveness — and tensions across the planet are palpable. So why doesn’t it feel like we’re in this together? Because we are all in this, but not together.
Instead, we are isolated due to social distancing and idealistic polarization. Julianne Holt-Lunstad says in a Health Affairs policy brief, “being socially connected in meaningful ways is actually key to human health and survival.”
Surveys reflect isolation and loneliness have skyrocketed in the past year, but experts also acknowledge that pre-pandemic rates of social isolation probably were underestimated. Social media connections are not a suitable substitute for real human connections. Social isolation leads to high rates of depression, suicide and substance abuse.
For the future, let’s eradicate loneliness by connecting. Smile at a stranger, reach out to a neighbor, do kind deeds for others and include someone in your plans. Show someone you care.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger in the end
Face it, we all hate this one because we know it’s true — to a certain extent. We grow and get stronger from challenges, whether they are physical or emotional. However, what if the challenge is mental illness or addiction?
Pre-pandemic statistics showed that only 40 percent of adults with a mental health condition received mental health services, and only 11 percent of those with a substance use disorder received treatment.
What about the other 60 percent to 89 percent? They didn’t seek or receive services for a variety of reasons — stigma, access, cost, or maybe they tried to push through as a result of American grit. The reality is that mental illness and addiction kill.
Mental Health America’s 2021 report reflects higher rates of mental illness and increased severity of those conditions — resulting in more suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, deaths by suicide and overdoses.
Let’s not apply this cliché to mental health and addiction. Together, let’s help our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers get help for mental illness and substance abuse.
The new normal
This cliché was meant to describe the rapid and ever-evolving landscape of our world. The past year has challenged nearly everything we believed to be true, possible and predictable. Things are not as they appear, nor have they ever been.
I want to drop “normal” from our vocabulary. The word implies a static state or an equilibrium that simply does not exist. Let’s give up the illusion that anyone or anything is normal — despite what we see on social media.
Instead, assume that the people around you are struggling in some way. Treat them with compassion. Reach out to classmates, co-workers, family, friends and neighbors to offer support and assistance accessing the resources they need to address their struggles.
They may do the same for you someday.
Tammy Hoyman is chief executive officer of Employee and Family Resources in Des Moines.