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Turn on the lights

By Debbie Zoller, MSW, LCSW
JFS Executive Director

If you’re looking at this page, you may see that JFS is seeking another part-time therapist. As we continue to cope with the uncertainty caused by an international health crisis, each one of us has been impacted in their own way. For those of us who have social anxiety, the idea of not having to go to events and socializing with friends might have been appealing. If we love to go out and travel, the pandemic has been restrictive, and we may feel like we’ve missed out. 

The CDC says, “Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact. Social isolation is a lack of social connections. Social isolation can lead to loneliness in some people, while others can feel lonely without being socially isolated.” At JFS, we’ve tried to create experiences that promote connection. Our Phone-a-Friend Program, which partners a volunteer with an older adult, has more than tripled with 15 community members making outreach calls twice a month to people aging independently and to those living in long-term care residences.
Volunteering is a great way to make a difference and help you connect to others. Our inter-generational program with teens talking to older adults, Better Together, promotes sharing experiences and perceptions of the other generation. Our men’s group, Schmooze and Schmear, is an opportunity for men who are retired to share their expertise and thoughts. JFS continually seeks opportunities that help individuals connect to each other. Certainly, the other Jewish organizations such as the JCC, synagogues, Federation and JDS work very hard to foster a sense of belonging and community. However, there is no one size fits all, and not everyone may feel welcome in these groups. 

You may have lost people you loved, been isolated in your home, or have watched your children suffer as a result of not being able to go to school. Individuals are more socially isolated, so talking to a professional can be a way of validating your experiences and connecting to another person. The concept of receiving therapy has become much more accepted in our society. It is part of self-care, and it can be one part of a therapeutic approach that includes healthcare, mindfulness, exercise, art or music therapy, etc. Everyone deserves the opportunity to find their own coping mechanisms that help them cope better with life. 

If you had mental health challenges before the pandemic, most likely you are having more difficulty coping with your feelings now. If you’re new to experiencing mental health issues, you’re not alone. Many articles reinforce that anxiety and depression have particularly increased among teenagers and young adults. I have met some vivacious and beautiful young women who have missed their college graduations, struggle with finding jobs, and even if they find a job, they are working remotely at home alone. They have never been with their colleagues, so it is difficult to have friends. They are anxious about dating, and they are depressed about the future. I have met older adults who have not visited family and have missed special events. If they are tech-oriented, they can live on the Zoom and participate in programs. But, this experience does not allow the warm embrace of a hug that can feel so good. Try to hug yourself if you can’t hug another person. We must support ourselves. 

Recognizing that you may need help is the first step. The second step is to explore resources that are available. Sometimes individuals need a friend to support them in engaging a professional. JFS provides counseling services, but we also provide referrals to resources throughout our community. Our professional ethics guide us to provide confidential and compassionate assistance. As the wintertime approaches and it becomes darker earlier, more individuals may experience the “blues.” As we enter the season of Chanukah, it’s time to turn on the lights and shed some of the darkness.