Some have called it an epidemic. And it’s particularly virulent within the senior population. The epidemic leads to even more serious conditions. But the cure is simple, and it distills down to three words: “Never Cry Alone!”
I’ve written many times about the isolation that so many older adults in America face as they age. And then comes the COVID pandemic and all the rest of us who are not yet of an age got the chance to experience isolation first hand, and social media assaults, and out political climate, and out climate climate…the list goes on. It’s a feeling of loss that sets in and in many cases becomes full blown depression so much so that mental health tops the list of the health care issues threatening our society.
It’s Simon Sinek that offered the simple message based on years as an inspirational author and speaker: Never Cry Alone! Ironically, Sinek doesn’t talk about loneliness or depression as something to deny or from which to create as much distance as possible. It’s part of being normal, he says. Resilience is the goal, not just happiness. Surround yourself with friends … or at least a friend … whom you can call when you just need to say, “This is not just a bad day; can we talk?”
What does that good friend do, because remember friendship is a two way street? A truly good friend is not there to “fix things” for you, and a truly good friend is not there to “cheer you up.” A truly good friend is there to listen. That may sound simple enough, but extremely few of us are “good listeners” without some training. In fact, a psychologist named Kenneth Haugk, Ph.D., started an entire movement called Stephen Ministry in 1975, based on this simple premise of “active listening” to others with a problem, a tough situation or just in need of a sensitive ear.
So, it’s just listening? Well, it’s all about active listening. I have a go-to phrase with my family when they come to me with problems: “Do you want me to problem solve or just listen?” With listening in motion, the active piece comes into play with additional questions that may sound like:
- I’m sorry to hear that; how are you feeling now?
- How is that working for you?
- You mentioned ____; talk to me about that.
- You’ve given this some thought; what do you think?
And maybe based on Mr. Sinek’s advice, you learn to allow your friend to cry and simply provide the tissue. And keep listening.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.