“It is weakness, not strength, that binds us to each other …and somehow gives us the ability to do what we cannot do alone.” – 12 Step program preamble
Building community support has never been more important than now, as people and communities are more isolated, and in a different way than our culture has seen before, due to the global ramifications of the Covid-19 virus. The month of September always reminds me of another challenging time in our nation when connections were vital for Americans to rebuild.
The Value of Community Support
On September 11, 2001, I was 23 years old and living and working in direct patient care in Manhattan, and, like millions in New York, I watched as the World Trade Center collapsed. I will forever be moved by the power of community I witnessed during that time, and how trauma can begin to be healed through community support, allyship, and connection. Every fall since September 11th, I continue to reflect on resilience and community, and how New Yorkers showed up for each other and allowed the greater community at large to support them. For my personal healing in the weeks and months after 9/11, I delved deeper into my yoga community, often getting up at 5 am for group meditations and practice before work. I started teaching yoga to first responders, fire fighters, and police teams. I cooked and baked incessantly and joined the Brooklyn food coop, where I could volunteer with others. I needed to stay connected to community, health, and wellness while honoring my feelings of sadness and fear. It was essential for me to stay connected to the city, spend time with others who were also suffering and committed to taking action.
There has been significant research regarding the effects of 9/11, particularly around alcohol use disorders, smoking, divorce, PTSD, and other behavioral struggles. A study in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that binge drinking increased significantly after 9/11, and people who were closest to the tragedy and suffered from PTSD symptoms were more likely to participate in higher rates of binge drinking. But research also found mitigating factors that helped to heal trauma over time. Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH, Professor and Dean at the Boston University School of Public Health, states, “Social support is probably the single most clear driver that mitigates the consequences of trauma. It’s central.”
We know the current effects of Covid-19 – the restrictions, economic struggles, social unrest, and isolation – are having profound effects on people’s mental health, substance use, sense of security, and sense of self.