2020 was a brutal year for staying connected. Back in the 80s, the hippies that hadn’t put a Deadhead sticker on their Cadillac came up with this “peace and love” slogan:
The 2020 equivalent would be “you can’t hug anyone with COVID cooties.”
Ironically enough, you can stay connected with your nuclear family. But pretty much everyone else (save the grocery worker apologizing for the limit on toilet paper… or the total lack of it on shelves) was (and is) off limits. The so-called “weak ties” have been severed. And that’s been a real challenge, especially for those already battling depression.
Here’s an excerpt from a piece in The Atlantic by Amanda Mull:
In the weeks following, I thought frequently of other people I had missed without fully realizing it. Pretty good friends with whom I had mostly done things that were no longer possible, such as trying new restaurants together. Co-workers I didn’t know well but chatted with in the communal kitchen. Workers at the local coffee or sandwich shops who could no longer dawdle to chat. The depth and intensity of these relationships varied greatly, but these people were all, in some capacity, my friends, and there was also no substitute for them during the pandemic. Tools like Zoom and FaceTime, useful for maintaining closer relationships, couldn’t re-create the ease of social serendipity, or bring back the activities that bound us together.
Understandably, much of the energy directed toward the problems of pandemic social life has been spent on keeping people tied to their families and closest friends. These other relationships have withered largely unremarked on after the places that hosted them closed. The pandemic has evaporated entire categories of friendship, and by doing so, depleted the joys that make up a human life—and buoy human health.
And here’s an excerpt from an article about the true power of “weak ties” from the Harvard Business Review:
It’s not just in the movies that people get social support from their hairdresser. We feel seen when a server smiles upon seeing us and knows what our “usual” is. In fact, our interactions with weak ties tend to go especially smoothly, since we are often on our best behavior with people we don’t know well. Weak-tie relationships give us short, low-cost, informal interactions, which often provide new information and social variety. As a result, we are often pleasantly surprised by these moments.
Is it any wonder that our society is becoming more polarized? With less weak-tie interaction, we no longer have to be on our best behavior… be polite… smile at strangers. Hunkering down is good for stopping the spread of coronavirus, but that bunker mentality isn’t helping us mentally.
Here’s an excerpt from a Washington Post article about the rise in suicide rates due to the pandemic:
From the moment the coronavirus arrived, it has exposed and deepened every crack in America’s foundation. But when it comes to suicide prevention, the country’s system was already falling apart.
Even as suicide rates have fallen globally, they have climbed every year in the United States since 1999, increasing 35 percent in the past two decades. Still, funding and prevention efforts have continued to lag far behind those for all other leading causes of death.
Then came the pandemic.
Experts warned that the toxic mix of isolation and economic devastation could generate a wave of suicides, but those dire predictions have resulted in little action.
The mental health crisis is the silent pandemic.
What can we do when we’re still in lockdown? We can’t hang out with a bunch of strangers in a bar (unless you’re in Sturgis for the Harley Rally – anything goes!) But we can at least reach out to a few of our casual acquaintances. Whip out that smart phone, scroll through your contacts to find four folks with whom you haven’t connected in a while, and shoot each of them a quick text. Just to say howdy.
Use emojis if you must. Call it a game of Connect Four if that helps. (“Pretty sneaky, sis!”)
Just reach out.
A quick “thinking of you” could improve their quality of life. And perhaps their quantity of life too.