During these uncertain times, when all routines are disrupted and we have more questions than answers, I find it helpful to consider the plight of others to keep from focusing only on my own challenges. In a recent conversation with our Board Chairman, Jeff Lane, we talked about social distancing and social isolation. He had some great insights on how these relate to members of The Well, so I’ve asked him to share them with you.
My office sent us to work from home a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been good at keeping in touch with each other, not just about work projects but also just checking in to see if we are doing “OK” —a little mental health checkup, so to speak. Already some colleagues are dealing with anxiety, loneliness and even depression. This temporary experience has taught me a few basic insights that help me better understand members of The Well who, for most of their lives, have lived in social isolation and dealt with anxiety.
In fact, that is my first insight: Our disruption is temporary. For a few weeks (or maybe months) we will find ourselves housebound and limited in many of the activities we have enjoyed. But as we have heard from members of The Well, when mental illness struck (often in their late teens), their lives were forever changed. Gone were hopes for advanced education, meaningful employment and recognized social status. Instead, because of stigma and limited mental health resources, they have lived much of their lives defined by “social distance” and loneliness. That is, until they found The Well Community. While much of society shuns those who struggle with mental illness, The Well welcomes them. Here they have a community they can belong to.
A second epiphany I’ve had is the difference between social distance and social isolation. You see, the “social distancing” that we’re all supposed to practice in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 is really only “physical distancing”: staying separated far enough so that the virus can’t transmit from one person to another. That’s completely different than being socially separated from each other. Technology keeps many of us connected through social media, conferencing tools and visual chats. We may not be sitting side by side, but we are not socially isolated.
Not so for my friends who are members of The Well Community. Many people keep them both physically and socially distant. Again, stigma takes its toll and people living with severe mental illnesses are rarely met with friendliness and kindness. That’s just not true at The Well, where, as one member said, “Here you can just be yourself.” Here (in normal times!) they share hugs and meals with each other, the staff and volunteers. Here they share laughter and learning—together!
And finally, I have thought about the resources required for The Well to serve its members—both now during the “social distancing” and the economic disruption, and in the future when this temporary health crisis is over and society is back to full functioning, The Well needs support from each of us; but that is much harder to offer when we’re all anxious and uncertain about the future. I’ve found that it is one thing to give when my 401(k) is doing well and another when my income has taken a dive. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Well members giving generously out of their own scarcity to help each other in times of real need. This thought has become clearer to me as a result of their example: Sacrificial giving is actually more rewarding than routine giving. Truly it is “more blessed to give.”
The needs of those struggling every day with mental health difficulties and poverty do not fluctuate with the stock market. So please join me in making sure The Well continues to have the resources it needs to serve its members, even now when our own resources are uncertain. And may God bless both your courage and your generosity.
Jeff Lane, Board Chairman