MIDLAND – Loneliness is a serious issue than can affect the physical and mental health for many older adults. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased social isolation and has led to a number of new challenges. To help seniors struggling with loneliness, MidMichigan Health is offering a free, virtual five-week series focusing on loneliness and social connection entitled “Bridge to Belonging.” The program will be held Tuesdays, beginning March 16, and will take place from 2-3:15 p.m., via Zoom.
“Human beings are, by nature, social creatures,” said Meghan Dahl, L.M.S.W., behavioral health therapist at MidMichigan Medical Center – Midland. “While some individuals may choose not to be around people and are fine with that decision, others may become lonely. Some become disconnected because of the loss of a spouse, or some retire and lose the social support they had on a job. Loneliness is a real issue that should not be ignored.”
In addition, according to Dahl, social isolation and loneliness have also been linked to several negative health effects, including cognitive decline, depression and even heart disease.
“Loneliness is found to be worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” continued Dahl. “It can be just as harmful to your health as obesity and lack of exercise. When we think about a person’s health, we often hear recommendations to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. However, we don’t always target loneliness as a health issue. Fortunately, there are many strategies that one can learn and practice to decrease the feeling of loneliness and help feel more connected and positive about life. The Bridge to Belonging program will help explore these issues.”
Over the five week program, several topics will be discussed, including:
- Increasing positive behaviors.
- Addressing negative thoughts.
- Challenging social anxiety.
- Relaxation strategies.
- How to practice these ideas while adjusting for lifestyle changes with COVID-19.
The program is open to anyone interested in learning more on about combating loneliness, whether for themselves or a loved one. All program materials and login information will be mailed to registrants prior to the first meeting. Participants will join the Zoom meeting from their smartphones, computer, tablet or other device with an internet connection. Participants can also listen to the session using their phone.
Registration is required for this free program and is open now through Friday, March 12. Those interested in signing up can do so at www.midmichigan.org/bridge. Those who need assistance with registration may call the MidMichigan Health Line toll-free at 800-999-3199.
The Bridge to Belonging program was made possible from a grant given to the MidMichigan Health Foundation. The grant, awarded by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, helps to support The Bridge to Belonging: Partnership to End Loneliness project.
By working together, MidMichigan Health and its collaborating partners developed a systems-approach to address loneliness as a social determinant of health. Health providers assess for loneliness and connect older adults to health and social resources in the community. Additional partners on the project include 211 of Northeast Michigan, which receives inquiries regarding resources for connection, as well as the Council on Aging, which provides case management, care management, social connection through programs and meal sites, volunteers and friendly visits.
Those interested in learning more about the fund may visit https://mihealthfund.org/.