Mental Health View of Touch
It’s almost impossible to find someone today that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic and current lockdowns. People are dying, financially struggling, religiously and politically divided. Some would say these hardships are necessary for progress and advancement, while others would disagree.
What does seem to be universally felt and agreed upon is the need to be in physical community and be touched. I’m not talking about being touched in a figurative way, like when a friend you haven’t talked to in years reaches out and wants to take you out for lunch; but physical touch like hugs, kisses and being close to one another.
While technology has afforded us some form of safety by allowing us to stay in touch with loved ones, it is no substitute for actual physical contact. The truth is that while we may be engaging in protecting ourselves from physical death, we may be ensuring mental and relational death....which one could argue would still result, down the road, in physical death.
This is not a position piece on politics, but it is a piece on the importance of touch and how we’re made and function. Whether you believe in creationism or Darwinism, there is no denying that human beings thrive in community. Human beings function better mentally and emotionally in community.
As a mental health counselor, I meet with countless people struggling with depression. One of the more notable symptoms of depression is isolation. One of the treatments for depression is developing a support group of people who can be there when depression is heavy.
Why does the DSM 5 continue to focus on social and community supports as evidence based treatment?
Every Continuing Ed course for mental health therapists I’ve attended have always stressed the importance of having social supports and being in a positive community that can help hold you up when you’re in the midst of a mental health struggle.
Every medical doctor I have worked in collaboration with regarding mental health treatment planning for a client has always emphasized, to the client, being in therapy as well as being supported by friends and family. All of these medical authorities and resources all seem to agree that community and being in positive relationship with other people is significantly important to an individual’s mental health.
Physical touch, kisses, hugs, warm embraces allow us to feel accepted and acknowledged. When we lack that, there is an increased absence of acceptance and acknowledgement. Physical touch increases our confidence. When we lack touch, we see increases in low self-esteem. Physical touch helps us communicate and when we lack that opportunity we see increases in frustration because we can’t communicate affectively (I.e a child who can’t form sentences and is trying to communicate something important to his/her parents).
Physical touch is an important part of existing that can’t be dismissed or diminished. A child who is physically neglected can grow up with a proclivity to live on the fringe; simply because they do not know how to be in community. They often suffer from chronic depression and anxiety and in some severe cases suffer from a personality disorder.
Physical touch is hardwired into our brains and necessary for surviving and thriving.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
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