Conversation at USJ devoted to ending loneliness and social isolation

“Connecting Connecticut Conversations,” a discussion about loneliness and social health was held at the University of Saint Joseph on the evening of Feb. 28. Presented by the CT Collaborative to End Loneliness, the program was led by Deb Bibbins, founder of For All Ages, an organization that works to connect the generations and inspire action to end loneliness, reduce ageism, and improve health. 

From left to right, Deb Bibbins, founder of For All Ages; Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz; USJ President Rhona Free; and Gary Sekorsky, co-founder of For All Ages.

USJ President Rhona Free, a member of the CT Collaborative to End Loneliness, introduced special guest speaker Connecticut Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz. Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz  talked about the Social Connection Campaign she and Gov. Ned Lamont started recently to find strategies for helping end loneliness and social isolation in the state with the aid of the Collaborative to End Loneliness and state agencies such as the Department of Public Health, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Aging and Disability Services , the Department of Children and Families, the Commission on Women, Children Seniors, Equity and Opportunity, and several more.  

“We’re going to work together to make sure we are acting in a coordinated way to try to increase social connection here in Connecticut,” Bysiewicz said. “It is really important that we do that, especially for our young people—our teenagers through those in their early twenties— and our seniors, although it is a problem for all of us.” 

Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz addresses the audience at the conversation about loneliness and social isolation.

For All Ages co-founder Gary Sekorsky told the audience that research has shown that males are the loneliest gender, perhaps, he said, because males may not be as social as females as they age or have been taught not to show emotion or discuss their feelings of loneliness.  

The loneliest population, he said, are young people from 18-22, who are at a critical time of transitions at this time in their lives. Sekorsky said that to help both this age group and seniors experiencing loneliness, For All Ages has created a program called “Tea at 3” in which Connecticut residents age 55 and older and young adults from 18-25 in Connecticut share a cup of tea and talk with “Tea-Mates” from another generation. Connie Malone, 71, a resident of Canton, spoke about her battle with loneliness and how both moving to the more social environment of an assisted living center and participating in “Tea at 3” have helped her to fight social isolation and depression. 

Deb Bibbins, founder of For All Ages addresses the attendees of the conversation about loneliness and social isolation.

Bibbins led a panel that included a cross section of professionals and students discussing the loneliness and social isolation they have witnessed or have experienced themselves. 

Three college students on the panel spoke about the loneliness that they experienced as they entered college—a transition in life that can cause social isolation. The students spoke about some of the ways they were able to make social connections with others, such as through the Tea at 3 program, and getting together with other students through programming at the Center for Wellness Development, which houses The Perch, USJ’s relaxing wellness room. 

Dr. Sonya Kurtakoti, chief of Geriatric Medicine at Hartford Healthcare, talked about the increase in loneliness she has observed in her older patients – some of whom say their only social activities are their doctor’s appointments. She added that loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of dementia and other medical problems, adding that physicians and other health care providers must do more to screen their patients for signs of social isolation.

Near the end of the evening, attendees spoke with panel members, sharing facilitated conversations about social connection.  

“The conversation on loneliness was eye-opening,” said Miriam Correa, assistant director of Student Affairs and Wellness Educator at USJ. “Addressing loneliness is crucial to our wellbeing because human beings are inherently social creatures and social connections help support our mental health and reduce our level of stress. I walked away realizing how important it is to share our story with others, so we don’t feel like we’re the only ones going through it.” 

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