An Act of Kindness Today May Save a Life Tomorrow
By Dr. Frank Lotrich
As you roam the aisles of the local grocery store, look around. You might see an ICU nurse, just finishing her twelve-hour shift, where she lost yet another patient to COVID-19; a teacher, worrying about the school kids from that day, and their ongoing lack of social interactions; an out-of-work bartender running out of grocery cash; a police officer grabbing a bite to eat before starting his nightshift; a mother unable to work because of the several children at home all day; a stranger who lost their father to COVID last week. I’m a psychiatrist at West Springs Hospital, and I’ve likely shared the aisle shopping for bread with many of these people. I’ve witnessed firsthand the devastating emotional impacts the pandemic, economy, and political environment have had on his community. It can be overwhelming.
I don’t know who you’ll see at the store, but I can tell you that everyone, at that moment, has been impacted by the events of the past year. Some are doing OK. Some may be struggling a great deal. We don’t know which of the shoppers are feeling such despair that they’re self-medicating with drugs or alcohol or contemplating suicide. If we did know, perhaps we would offer them a smile (behind our masks), make eye contact, and offer a warm hello.
Or, we could simply be kind to everyone, knowing we could all use a little extra compassion and empathy. It is our blessing to be able to offer kindness to one another.
A recent joint study issued by the Robert Graham Center and Well Being Trust projects that “deaths of despair” will continue to increase during the ongoing pandemic and in the years of recession that are likely to follow. These deaths may be due to increased alcohol consumption, drug overdoses, or suicides – not necessarily by people who have struggled with lifelong mental illness, but by people who simply have succumbed to the economic, social, and political stressors of the day. The mental health community is continually asking ourselves, “How can we prevent these deaths?”
Fred Rogers, beloved childhood television host, said it best, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” Right now, people need to feel loved. We need to be seen and heard. We need to be here and present for each other. We need kindness.
Today’s world is full of uncertainty – it surrounds all of us, threatening the core of who we are and how we live. Social distancing, financial insecurity, political unrest, and the threat of illness all fuel the fire of despair. But there is an antidote. It is kindness, and it is so simple. Be kind to your co-workers, friends, and family. Be kind to strangers. Kindness is a medicine that must be liberally administered, with no fear of overdosing. We need that gift from you.
Be present in the here and now, focusing on those in front of you instead of those hiding behind memes on social media. Be honest. Be truthful. Be forgiving. Take a few minutes every day to be kind to someone who may otherwise not be here tomorrow. And if you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Colorado State Crisis Line at 844.493.TALK or text TALK to 38255. You’re never alone, and there is help. Thank you.
Frank Lotrich, MD, PhD is the Medical Director for West Springs Hospital, the only psychiatric hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City. A board-certified psychiatrist, Dr. Lotrich specializes in depression, pharmacogenetics, sleep, and neuroscience.