Today I started class by telling my students to find an image that represented how they felt in that moment with whatever place they were in life. They emailed me their image with a brief explanation of why they chose the image and whether or not it was okay for me to share it, anonymously, with the rest of the class. While students completed their assignment, I read all the emails and quickly compiled the images into Google slides. At the end of class, we looked at the slide show. All of the images were different, but many had common themes despite the fact that students did this activity independently. Most students were stressed, experiencing some real difficulties, and feeling alone. I will use the explanations to check on students who need checking on, and advise them again of campus resources that may be helpful. As I walked to my car in the parking garage, I thought about how I feel in my element when I’m teaching. I thought, “I’m a good teacher because I care. That’s it. That’s all.”
A group of researchers at Harvard followed a large group of men, 724 to be exact, for 79 years to try to find out what makes a happy and healthy life. They looked at brain scans, medical records, interviews, etc. They could even predict at age 50 which men would die an earlier death. How? By the value of the relationships those men were a part of.
High cholesterol and other health concerns were present in some of the men, but they didn’t hold a stronger value as compared to a good relationship with family, friends, or community when predicting health. Couples who knew that they could depend on each other in all circumstances lived longer, healthier lives. You see, it wasn’t enough to be in a relationship. It had to be a really good one. You can be surrounded by people and still feel alone. You can be in a relationship and still feel alone. You can be a college student who seems to have everything going for you and still feel alone.
Did you know that some estimates say 1 in 5 Americans feels lonely? 1 in 5. I worry about that. I know some of the things these students are carrying. I think about a doctor’s appointment I had last month. I was filling out paperwork in the waiting room when an older man stopped to check out. The receptionist asked him, “Sir, do you have anyone you would like me to put down for you in case of emergency?” He said, “No.” She prompted, “A spouse or a child? Another relative? A friend? Anyone who we could call in case you needed to be picked up?” “No,” he repeated, “just me.”
If you have at least one person who loves you unconditionally, appreciate them. If you have no hesitation when you fill out emergency contacts, be grateful. When you are surrounded by loved ones, it is really tough to imagine being that man who doesn’t have a single name to give. Check on your family. Check on your friends. Visit someone in person instead of texting or hitting a like button. 1 in 5 is too many.