It’s being called a social recession. A near collapse in human contact that is particularly hard on people who are most vulnerable to isolation and loneliness, which includes many older adults. The necessary steps taken to contain the coronavirus have fueled the disease of loneliness.
In mid-March, Crown Center for Senior Living, like most organizations, took actions that seemed to contradict all that we typically work toward: bringing people together, creating connections and building a caring community.
And we had to do so knowing that social isolation and lack of meaningful engagement are two factors that significantly increase the risk of depression and physical decline for older adults. Because combatting these factors is difficult under the best of circumstances, how can we hope to do so now?
Many are seeking ways to volunteer to help others navigate the social recession. There are actions that can be taken to help now and invest in the future.
1. Reach out the “old fashioned” way: Older people living alone and without access to technology are especially isolated. Pick up the phone and call someone. Mail a card or letter – you know, the kind that involve paper, an envelope and a stamp. These are simple yet important steps to take.
2. Tell them they’re needed: Reach out to someone and tell them how they can be a volunteer themselves, that their help is important. Can you give them the name of a person to call? Empower the person living alone by giving them ways to contribute. Each of us gains hope and confidence knowing that we are useful and needed.
3. Work within your own corner of the world: Organize a network connecting people with one another so that when this crisis ends, we’ll have built a framework for “social capital” and be better prepared to deal with the diseases of isolation and loneliness.
4. Join a community: If you’re someone who’s not inclined to be a part of an informal or formal group, think about taking that step as soon as possible. What can you contribute to help others and help yourself at the same time?
Of course, the most difficult people to help are those we don’t know. They may be so isolated from community that they’re not even on our radar. Finding and connecting with these people is a special challenge. If you know of an older person who may be in this category, or if this describes you, let us know by contacting Jewish Family Services (JFS) at 314-812-9300.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the previous chief rabbi of Great Britain, eloquently describes volunteering:
“It is an expression of shared responsibility for common good. It is personal engagement in pursuit of an ideal. It is active citizenship of the highest order. A society in which there are high levels of voluntary activity will simply be a better, happier place than one where there are not. Ask any volunteer, and they will usually tell you that they gain more than they give. They don’t do it for recognition. They do it because they know volunteering helps change the world because it changes us.”
He teaches that this view of volunteering is based on the twin principles laid down by the Rabbi Hillel:
“If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”
Nikki Goldstein is Executive Director of Crown Center for Senior Living.