There is an ever increasing number of patients that I see, that are feeling all alone. A little crazy, sad, depressed, etc. And I wonder if it is a recent phenomenon or if I have just been unobservant, and it has been there all along. Or if it might be due to more patients being comfortable enough to open up about it.
Or if it might be our ever increasing need to broadcast every part of our lives. The need to post countless pictures and status updates on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, checking in on FourSquare, is it a need to be seen or is it maybe a sign of a need to know that someone cares. Maybe it is a way to connect, and yet the connection can often feel empty in itself.
There is no one who needs to know what you ate for lunch, and yet I would venture most of us have posted pictures of a meal or two. (I am just as guilty.) And not all thoughts are gems. And something posted carelessly can come back at you in the end. But maybe the problem isn’t social media, maybe it is merely allowing us to see what many of us keep hidden just beneath the surface.
The danger in this is that we become immune to posts that appear to be attention seeking. The person who posts “I just want it all to end.” may not be taken seriously when they are at their lowest. And yet, I am sure many of us have seen these posts. But if that is your way to connect with others, it is probably not going to save your life, because if someone were to decide that you were serious, there is the potential delay between the time posted and the time they try to find the appropriate authority for help.
And then there is the thought that many are posting just for attention. Of course you want attention, but is that the healthiest way to get it. From strangers and acquaintances? Does it mean something if they don’t really have a personal connection with you?
There is something to be said about true human contact. I know telemedicine is supposed to be the wave of the future, a way to get specialists into communities that would not otherwise happen. And maybe it will work eventually, but living in a community where the psychiatrist is a “Doc in a Box” does not appear to be overly satisfactory to patients. There is something to be said about human contact to help with healing patients. I cannot tell you how many patients ask me to take over their psychiatric needs because they don’t care for their “Doc in a box.” They don’t like talking to the box. Something always seems to be missing in those relationships.
Human contact is under-rated in this rapidly changing environment of social media and electronic medical records. While I think EHRs are a good thing, the biggest complaint patients have when their physicians change is that “they are no longer talking to me, but they are looking at their computers.”
As humans there is a need to know that someone cares, that someone is out there. Unfortunately we are teaching the next generation not to go outside and play, but to make connections online. And how much can you truly know about someone that you cannot see, and have never met. There is much to be learned from facial expressions, from posture, from touch. These cannot be duplicated from a machine, and a “there, there” on a computer screen is a poor substitute for a pat on the shoulder.