The mental health and loneliness paradox

Humans need closeness to be healthy. Isolation caused by mental illness can make conditions worse

By Julia Bainbridge

Published February 6, 2018 6:58PM (EST)


Human closeness is fundamental to our mental well-being, but many people have hurdles to human closeness.

"The only takeaway from the Harvard Longevity Project, which is the longest running social study ever done, was that people need to have good relationships to feel well," says Kira Asatryan, a certified relationship coach, professional coach and loneliness expert, and my first guest on this episode of "The Lonely Hour." "That study tracked the lives of Harvard men for 75 years. So, it's powerful stuff."

"The other thing is that the world has changed very rapidly in the last couple decades, but our brains are very ancient," she adds. "Our brains want to be around other people — it makes us feel safe, it makes us feel cared about, it makes us feel good."

Mental illness — whether it’s anxiety, depression, addiction or something else — can be isolating. It can be a hurdle to human closeness, and without that, the problem might get worse.

In this episode, I also talk to Kat Kinsman, an editor at the breakfast site Extra Crispy. (She was editor at large at Tasting Table at the time of our interview.) A lifelong struggle with anxiety led Kinsman to start writing about that, too, most recently in her book "Hi, Anxiety."

"I project a really positive and bubbly image out in the world," says Kinsman. "I go on TV, I go on the radio, and people think a very particular thing about me. That's because I hide myself away when I'm not in a good spot."

Kinsman says writing about anxiety was almost a way of apologizing to her friends. "It was during the holiday time, I was missing parties, I was not coming out and seeing friends. They were hurt. I was tired of hurting people who thought I maybe was just blowing them off. I had to come out and say, 'Sometimes I can't leave my house. Sometimes this is what's going on. I want to reach out to you, I can't. I can't even respond to your email. I'm feeling too low and too terrible.'"

"I'm only ever going to manage this better," she says. "And I'm getting better and better at it all the time."

Kinsman says she "lucked out" when she found her husband, who understands that she 's a work in progress.

"He's a fixer, and he wants nothing more than for me to feel good and to be happy. So the biggest thing has been me saying to him, 'Look, I love you and I know you're doing this because you love me. But you're not going to fix me. The best thing you can possibly do is live your life. I would die if I thought that I was keeping you from your life. Go and do the things, just tell me that you're going to come home and you're not going to leave.'" He listened, and "he's never tried to change me," she says.

Kinsman has since founded Chefs with Issues, a publishing project that helps people in the restaurant industry deal with mental health issues.

Listen to the full episode below.

Julia Bainbridge

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