May 8, 2020

Laughter is the Best Medicine

After renewing my online NY Times subscription a few years ago, I poured time into a newsy Sunday edition. One thing led to another until I discovered “Next Avenue”, an upbeat news source for people 50-plus. Located in Minnesota, it’s part of the PBS system, and offers innovative information about living well in today’s world. If it were a book, I wouldn’t have been able to put it down!

You can view sample articles and sign up for the “Next Avenue” free twice-weekly e-newsletters at www.nextavenue.org. Please check out this website that has thousands of articles of interest, and then share with a friend or neighbor. Also, if you are inclined to share feedback about this unique journalism, you can reach me at 608-424-4568 or joni@jssmadison.org.

Other media outlets warn the public about the negative impact of isolation on older people. Additional headlines claim that there’s nothing like human connection to counter challenging aspects of social distancing such as anxiety and depression. Sometimes, changes in mood take older (and younger) people by surprise. It’s common to hear folks say, “I’ve never felt this way before! Not ever!”

Did you know, though, that worry and sadness are typical during troubling times for people of all ages? If you think you may be experiencing a mental health issue, please know two things. The first is that there is a lot of support out there. The second is that you are not alone.

You’ve heard the adage that laughter is the best medicine. My doctor back in Alaska agrees with this, but also says the greatest laughs are shared. After burning the candle at both ends last spring, I came down with a “bug” and went to see him. “It’s a virus,” he said. “No antibiotics!”

Next, he started shaking his head and asked, “When was the last time you had fun?” Work was hectic, and my daughter was preparing for high school graduation and college. No good answer. I just looked at him and he just looked at me. “My prescription for you,” he said, “is to go home and call a friend!” Thanks to his terrific sense of humor, we had quite the laugh!

Also out of Minnesota is “The On Being Project” with Krista Tippett. You can discover more about this public radio show and its free podcasts covering a wide range of topics for people of all ages at www.onbeing.org. Known for her journalistic integrity, Krista Tippett was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama in 2014.

As we face the uncertainties of COVID-19, “The On Being Project” provides insights about social distancing to include the idea that some people are finding personal meaning in their solitude. They are doing such things as exploring new hobbies and finally getting around to reading those books that they put on their shelves years ago.

Both “Next Avenue” and “The On Being Project” offer access to an abundance of material about mental health. The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center is another option for learning more about mental health for people of all backgrounds. You can reach them by phone at 1-866-615-6464 or by email at nimhinfo@hih.gov. Finally, the website for this national organization is www.nimh.nih.gov.

People often say that our society needs to overcome the stigma of mental health for the benefit of all. One harmful effect of this stigma is a reluctance to reach out for professional support. Another is a belief that anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions are hopeless and cannot be treated. I know that picking up the phone or turning on the computer to ask for help is about the last thing many people want to do when they’re feeling sad and worried, or when there is a language barrier impacting their communication with others. But, educating yourself about options for improving your situation and/or for supporting your friends and neighbors is one of the best possible steps that you can take.

We often hear the phrase, “another year older, another year wiser”. Really think about that for a minute, and about the probability of our collective wisdom supporting our effort to get through almost anything, including COVID-19. While there is nothing celebratory about Coronavirus, we are in this together and we are pulling for each other. And, as we move forward, please remember that looking after your mental health is a beneficial thing to do!

I am looking forward to seeing you again in person. Until then, all of us at JSS are available to help out with things and can be easily reached at 608-442-4081. You are also welcome to contact me at 608-424-4568 or joni@jssmadison.org for more information about mental health resources in Dane County. Until we meet again.

~ Joni Pico