Penny Sitler: Connecting with Others

penny sitler

Often after one of my columns runs, I get calls and emails and people stop me around the county to thank me for the information I’ve shared. My purpose for writing these articles is to help anyone who can benefit from my research and training, as well as my personal experience.

All too often, people in today’s world live solitary lives. We are missing out on many of the personal interactions of days gone by. Everyone is “connected” via cell phone and computer, not in person. Our “friends” are people we never actually see, but near strangers who “like” what we’re involved in based on what we post online. Our ability to build relationships and feel emotion are part of what makes humans special creatures, but our society has traded personal interactions and actual touch for distant, removed exchanges.

Yet we still crave personal interactions, including hugs, touches and looking straight in each other’s eyes. Another thing that makes great impact is actual paper mail that isn’t a bill or junk mail. Those who know me well know that I enjoy hand making greeting cards and mailing them to celebrate special occasions, to send articles from the newspaper or to offer support when someone is going through a tough time. Call me old school – I also still like to read an actual newspaper. I know that I love receiving real mail and I hope that the recipients also do, but I don’t always hear from them. That doesn’t matter to me – I don’t do it to feel good myself but to make someone else feel cared about.

Reaching out to someone in need provides social connectedness – this is what we refer to in the behavioral health field as a protective factor. Protective factors help build resilience in people so they’re able to survive and thrive in our world. Social connectedness provides emotional support, helps solve problems and forms positive relationships between people.

Recently a family who came into MHA to talk about a situation with me shared that they had been referred by a friend who I had helped so much after a difficult loss. The truth of the matter is that the friend is someone I don’t know all that well but after a particularly devastating circumstance, I sent her a card letting her know my heart was breaking for her, I was available if she needed to talk and that MHA might have some helpful resources for her family. I never heard back from her and wondered how she was doing. Apparently that note meant way more than I could have ever hoped.

That tells me that we all need to take the time to reach out when it occurs to us – don’t ever assume that your kind gesture will go unnoticed. Do it for the person in need. The opportunity to give back is also a protective factor for you – you’re building your own resilience by caring about someone else!

Penny Sitler is the executive director of Mental Health America of Licking County. 

Found in The Newark Advocate June 29, 2017


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