|Year : 2020 | Volume
| Issue : 5 | Page : 187-188
Together: The healing power of human connection in a sometimes lonely world
Gupta Mind Healing and Counselling Centre, Chandigarh, India
|Date of Submission||21-Sep-2020|
|Date of Acceptance||21-Sep-2020|
|Date of Web Publication||02-Oct-2020|
Dr. Nitin Gupta
Gupta Mind Healing and Counselling Centre, Chandigarh - 160 009
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Gupta N. Together: The healing power of human connection in a sometimes lonely world. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020;36, Suppl S1:187-8
|How to cite this URL:|
Gupta N. Together: The healing power of human connection in a sometimes lonely world. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 26];36, Suppl S1:187-8. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2020/36/5/187/297173
Author: Vivek H Murthy
Title: Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World
Publisher: Harper Collins
Place of Publication: New York
Kindle Edition: $12.99/INR 688.94
Year of Publication: 2020
Price: $29.99/INR 1973.00
Imprint: Harper Wave
COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of people worldwide in numerous ways. The pandemic has led onto unprecedented morbidity and mortality across the world. Practically, no continent, country, or race has been spared. The concept of “social distancing” was introduced in order to keep a safe space between oneself and other people who were not from the same household. However, this is a misnomer as it is about maintaining a safe physical distance of 6 feet  or, as per the WHO, at least 1 m; hence is more appropriately termed “physical distancing.”
Somehow, the term “social distancing” caught fancy of the world (academicians, researchers, media, and the lay public alike), which, coupled with the lockdowns imposed in various countries at different time points, not only carried the inherent risk of social isolation,, but also actually led onto people feeling socially isolated, as demonstrated in recent research reports.
In this background, it was with an appropriate sense of timing and probably “serendipity” that the book in review was published and released in March 2020, just when the major inter-related events of (i) COVID-19 being declared as a pandemic and (ii) lockdowns across different countries were imposed.
The book starts with a “Preface,” and ends with a “Conclusion,” and there are two sections in between the start and the ending which comprise a total of eight chapters. Although the title of the book is Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, yet it will be pertinent to point out that the thrust of the conceptual discussion of this book is about the importance of human connection, the growing evidence for the hidden impact of loneliness on our health, and the emerging evidence for the social power of community. A special feature of the book is its 'origin' from the large number of town hall meetings held by the author as part of his official work, visiting of experimental communities, and interaction with scientists working with cutting-edge experiments. This database makes the book rich in evidence and relevance. This is made more clear by the author in his initial note and preface regarding why “social connection” (and associated “loneliness”) became a subject close to his heart, especially during his tenure as the Nineteenth Surgeon General of the United States of America.
Section I (making sense of loneliness) comprises five chapters (under our noses, the evolution of loneliness, cultures of connection, why now? Unmasking Loneliness). The tone is set in the beginning itself where important concepts of solitude and loneliness (and its types) are defined with distinctive clarity. The advent and origins of “social prescribing” in the UK and the USA are vividly described and in such detail that it helps any reader to be able to understand that the social aspects are an integral component to the overall holistic care (i.e., mental and physical health management) of individuals. I would add that it did warm the cockles of my heart (as the saying goes) and invoke nostalgia to see the names of Lichfield and Dr. Helen Stokes-Lampard. Lichfield (a beautiful cathedral city) was about 12 miles away from where I practiced my Psychiatry as a NHS Consultant for 8 years, and the Trust I worked for provided specialist mental health services here. The author further deals with the evolution of loneliness and how the field of “social neuroscience” has developed in the recent years. He goes onto discuss how loneliness leads onto changes in the way our body system reacts in a negative manner. Especially of interest is the takotsubo syndrome/”broken heart syndrome” which is a form of acute stress reaction, even resulting in death. Very gently, the author shifts onto the importance of connections and family, and explores these concepts by linking up the sociological and psychological aspects. Various aspects are discussed in detail, and the complexities of culture are brought out. The concepts of “collectivistic versus individualistic culture” are highlighted and how these are inter-twined with “loneliness” and “oneliness (solitude).” An important point that gets highlighted is: whether or not any person has support, “loneliness” will be experienced if our social experience fails to meet our social expectations. How technology has overtaken “social networks” and the burgeoning of social media has impacted upon the current generations is also discussed; wherein we are introduced to new terms such as “phubbing.” The book enlightens as to how technology can transform our capacity for “Solitude” (a positive attribute) into “loneliness” (an attribute with potentially negative consequences). It is not that the etiology of mental illnesses and psychopathology is unknown, but the sociological underpinnings are well illustrated here through discussions around areas such as loneliness and its linkage with migrants, suicide, violence, bullying, addiction, and catatonia. This approach of the author to illustrate strong evidence through vignettes and experiences of communities from different parts of the country is a special aspect of the book. It also makes for easy reading by one and all.
Section II (building a more connected life) comprises three chapters (relating inside out, circles of connection, and a family of families). Here, the author focuses on how a person understands the problem from one's own inner signals, that is, our self-knowledge. The importance and power of concepts of “self-compassion” and “pause” are highlighted. The importance of friends and friendships is discussed in detail, and how they help in staving of different types of loneliness (collective, relational, and intimate) is indeed useful. For me personally, who has used the concept of concentric circles in explaining to patients during process of psychotherapy, this was a validating experience. This section ends with a discussion around the relevance of family and its values.
Numerous questions and concepts are raised by the author in the concluding chapter; all pertinent, thought provoking, and bordering onto existential, in my considered personal opinion. The strengths of the book are: it is full of vivid real-life examples of human life and suffering to which the reader will be able to relate to, and these range from day-to-day problems to fully manifested psychological (mental) illnesses. In addition, the overall understanding of the core concept of “loneliness” is provided by a reasonably clever amalgam of the biological, social, and psychological aspects, which though spread across the book can be integrated into a working biopsychosocial model.
The book has potential for a mass appeal for different kinds of audiences. I, for one, was struck by the lucidity of its contents and descriptions and have been successfully able to apply its use in therapy for five patients already till date. It will be pertinent to mention here that these clients had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the related lockdown.
Hence, as the title mentions, there can be some “healing power” for the reader by understanding what “social isolation” and “loneliness” actually is for oneself and others around us! Indeed, this book is a useful and timely addition for all readers in the time of this COVID-19 pandemic!
| References|| |
Srinivasamurthy R, Gupta N. Social vaccine for the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic! Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020;36 (Suppl):S107-111.
Loades ME, Chatbum E, Higson-Sweeney N, Reynolds S, Shafran R, Brigden A, et al
. Rapid systematic review: The impact of social isolation and loneliness on the mental health of children and adolescents in the context of COVID-19. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2020. [doi: 10.1016/j. jaac. 2020.05.009]
Khandelwal SK. Debating the process, impact and handling of social and health determinants of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020;36 (Suppl):S64-S83.
Murthy VH. Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. New York: Harper Collins; 2020.