Our Opinion: Feel alone? You're not alone
Let's have a conversation about mental health.
If the idea of hearing those words scares you, you're not the only one. Whether it's dementia and memory loss, depression, or anxiety, it's hard for people to be honest about mental health.
Why is that?
It's difficult for people to think about their brain as a part of their body. Every person wants to believe they are in complete control of what they think, what they say and how they feel. Talking about mental health as the reason for forgetting things, feeling sad or tired, or being nervous can feel like "passing the buck." After all, it's our responsibility to remember things, think clearly and overcome our fears, isn't it?
Actually, as hard as it may be to conceptualize it, medical science tells us a lot about the influence that our brain's health has on the way we experience the world and process thoughts and emotions.
Increasingly, experts also believe that people's social situations play a major role in determining how healthy that brain can be.
We're glad that, starting this month, more older adults in Washington County — including King City and Tigard — will have access to information about the Senior Loneliness Line that Portland-based nonprofit Lines for Life has been operating for just over a year. This is a great resource for people who may feel isolated.
And yes, it's valid to feel isolated even when you're surrounded by other people. What our brains crave is not simply the presence of other human beings, but their companionship. We want to talk to people who care about us and want to listen to the things we have to say.
Studies have even shown that dogs — man's best friend — can improve the experience, and even health, of patients in hospitals and other medical facilities. Dogs can't talk back to us, but they're great listeners. Faithful pets and gentle therapy animals are a loving, stabilizing presence for people in difficult situations.
What they lack in tail-wagging and face-licking, though, the operators at Lines for Life make up in training, experience, ability to hold a conversation, and not having to be fed, walked or cleaned up after. They are there to listen, not to judge, and to help however they can.
The Senior Loneliness Line at 503-200-1633 fills an important niche. While it can be a lifeline, though, it's not a social network.
That's where VillagesNW comes in. Each village links older people in a particular area, allowing them to organize group activities, ask for and get help from neighbors in a time of need, and simply socialize and get to know one another.
Read our story, published online Aug. 15, 2019, on a Summerfield resident's efforts to start TiKiTu Village on the web.
There's no village yet for Tigard, King City and Tualatin — but Summerfield resident Terry Hall is working to change that. This is a great opportunity for older adults who might otherwise never cross paths to connect and form friendships. While it might take time for the village to officially get started, area residents are encouraged to come out to a meeting to learn more and meet other community-minded people.
No one is "too strong" to ever feel lonely. Having social opportunities is important for every person.
Whether we talk about mental health or not, we should talk.
Society has told us for years that we're supposed to suffer in silence and keep our problems to ourselves. That's not right. We all deserve better than that. We deserve to get the help we need when we need it.
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