Will Courtenay: Healthy Connections

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 (Dr. Will Courtenay)

Social distancing and self-isolation have turned a mental health problem into a medical necessity, but Dr. Will Courtenay sees an opportunity for healthy connections.

There’s a good chance you’re settling into another workday at home – or preparing kids for another school day in their bedrooms. It’s the new normal: the public health strategy of “social distancing.”

Canceling large gatherings, closing schools or offices and sheltering
in place are effective ways to slow the spread of COVID-19. But there’s a cost. And it’s not just economic. It’s potentially a cost to health and well-being.

There’s a fine line between social distancing and social isolation,
which the last surgeon general considered our country’s biggest health problem. He said we’re “facing an epidemic of loneliness and social isolation.” Today, were facing a pandemic for which – ironically – physical social isolation is the remedy.

Social isolation is linked with major health risks – including a risk of
death equaling that of smoking. So, while communities will benefit from social distancing, individuals may not.


Sadly, many older and chronically ill people are now suffering effects of isolation – like going without food and other essentials, including human contact. But the good news is, sheltering in place doesn’t prevent connecting with them.

My kids and I did that, in a “teachable moment.” Forget trying to
home school Common Core math. Now’s a time for kids to learn valuable lessons about community – about not just considering disinfectant and toilet paper for our families, but whether neighbors have enough to eat.

We first sent an email asking what was needed, then went knocking on doors of vulnerable neighbors. The 6 feet was safely distant, but the connection was sweetly close – and welcomed with gratitude. Connecting  with housebound neighbors is a more powerful lesson than any in online classes.

Older, ill and isolated neighbors need more care and attention to
thrive, not less. We should shift our mindset from “social distancing”
to “healthy connections.” It offers the very same benefits, but the
mindset is dramatically different.

We may have lost some freedom of movement now, but we need not lose our humanity. In fact, now more than ever, it’s desperately needed.

With a Perspective, this is Dr. Will Courtenay

Dr. Will Courtenay is a local psychotherapist specializing in
working with men and fathers.