Here’s a second lesson I’ve learned over the last two years.
What if I were to tell you that you have a powerful medicine at your disposal? This medicine has the capacity to help heal you or someone you love, make the process of facing the illness easier, and make you or your loved one stronger, if not physically, then certainly in mind and spirit. Additionally, it won’t cost anything but time and an adjustment in thinking. Wouldn’t you want to use that medicine?
Well, that medicine is community. Notice that I didn’t use quotation marks in referring to community as medicine. That’s because the positive health benefits of an intentional, caring community of people surrounding a person has verifiable medicinal effect.
That’s not just a flowery flight of pastoral speech. In the words of Dr. Mark Hyman, a physician who leads the Institute for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in a recent podcast on NPR’s “On Being,” he used the very words: “community is medicine.” Dr. Hyman’s insight into the power of community dovetails very well with the findings of a team of researchers from Brigham Young University’s Department of Psychology. In March, 2015, these researchers published a meta-analysis which concluded – in their words – that loneliness and social isolation will reach epidemic proportions by 2030 unless “action is taken.” In fact, after they surveyed over 70 research projects on the subject, they warned that loneliness is potentially more deadly than grades 2 and 3 obesity. In other words, the BYU researchers have stated the counterpoint to Dr. Hyman’s term: lack of community is disease.
Most of us in health care already know this. Health involves a whole world beyond the hospital or medical clinic. Notice, though, that I don’t suggest that “community” is just any conglomeration of a number of people. As I’ve been learning in my studies on loneliness, one can be “lonely in a crowd.” A healing community is a group of people who are focused, intentional, and coordinated in their efforts to support one another.
Indeed, on our website we define a Support Team as a group of volunteers who use a coordinated team approach to meet practical, emotional, and spiritual concerns of a person with a health care need in order to make the person’s recovery easier and less lonely. Using their particular gifts in caring for that person, they also care for that person’s family and/or care-givers. The volunteers who comprise a support team work together to offer intentional support to a person with healthcare concerns.
I’ve learned that the vast majority of folks who learn of this effort like it. As we go deeper in exploring the potential of Support Teams, we discover that we’re really talking about nurturing community in a process of strengthening the ties that already exist in a person’s system of relationships. By teaching, coordinating, and organizing the people a person knows, each experiences a caring community. Cooperating as a team serves to encourage the nurturing of basic human skills which people already possess and potentially opens new possibilities for how people experience and perceive their social connections.
So, lesson number two stated another way: Support Teams constitute a potent medicine.