Through the Looking Glass

My first step inside one of the Women’s Fund isolation booths turned out to be a seven-hour stay. Some of you may be thinking that’s way too long to stand in a booth. Or perhaps you’re thinking what I’ve heard time and time again, “Is this your punishment?” These thoughts may seem legitimate and even comical, but to someone who is actually feeling the cold grip of isolation, it’s no joke. It’s their life.

My name is Kate Salter. I recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh with a degree in Marketing and was thrilled to start my summer as an intern for the Women’s Fund of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation. When the Women’s Fund Campaign to End Isolation was first described to me, I wondered how in the world we were ever going to accomplish it. Here was this group of wonderfully bright and giving women proposing that we work to rid the population of loneliness. Being quite new to the concept, I didn’t know there was much we could do about the feeling of isolation. After all, everyone feels alone at some point in their lives; isn’t that just the way things go sometimes?

Research shows that isolation:

  • can lead to a higher risk of heart disease, depression and even death
  • increases your risk of dementia by 50%
  • is as dangerous to your health as smoking
  • takes a greater toll on your health than obesity or physical inactivity
  • and, can even change the way the brain functions

This data is what finally got my ears to perk up. I was amazed to discover that loneliness could actually be detrimental to one’s physical health. So, why is it that we tend to give more credit to the physical woes than the mental ones? If isolation can lead to all these health problems, then it makes sense to me that there should be a movement to end it.

The seven feet tall by three feet wide isolation booth is just one element of the campaign to End Isolation—but this facet has given me the most insight into the lives of those who are isolated. While standing outside the booth, I’ve had the opportunity to visit with brave men and women who have come forth to share their stories with me. I’ve heard from husbands who watch their “new mommy” wives struggle through the loneliness that comes with having a newborn. Teenagers tell me that although they’re labeled the “connected generation,” they actually feel they are more alone than most. An elderly woman once disclosed she feared her phone was disconnected because she hadn’t heard it ring in weeks. And women and men alike who’ve lost their spouses talked of the depths of isolation they’ve felt since the passing of their husbands or wives. Sadly, these stories represent only a small handful of the many I’ve heard.

Behind the glass of the isolation booth, the world seems a distant, unreachable place. Some people look at me, smile and move on. Others ignore me completely. But there are a select few, who make the choice to reach out and break the barrier.  And that is all we from the Women’s Fund are asking for—be aware and take action.  Take time out of your busy schedule and remember those who need you. Whose isolation story—perhaps that of someone closest to you—have you yet to hear?

By Kate Salter

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