by David K. Frattare
When I learned late in 2020 that I had tested positive for COVID, my first instinct was to rejoice ever so slightly at the idea of being able to self-isolate for ten days and spend some time alone with myself. I conjured up visions of college and my first few years on the job when I was living at home without a care in the world. I thought about all the Netflix shows I needed to watch, chores I wouldn’t have to do, and my teenage children waiting on me for a change. I even submitted a topic for this newsletter that was going to address the benefits of spending time alone. Then, I looked at my clock and realized that only 15 minutes had passed.
Ten days later, outside of brief glimpses of family members when I opened the bedroom door or our virtual meals, I went more than 200 straight hours without human contact. I’ve come to the same realization that Tom Hanks did in the movie Castaway when he fashioned his friend “Wilson” out of a volleyball after being stranded on a deserted island – we need people in our lives. If social media has taught me anything, it is that we are a society that craves interaction and attention even if it is negative. Socialization however is critical to our development as human beings. As a young sociology major, I learned that socialization provides us the means by which we gradually become able to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and how we learn who we are and how we fit into the larger world.
Each of us are unique and free to be whomever we want to be as individuals, but we learn who we are and how we fit into the larger world from others. From our initial social interactions in school to our careers and personal lives, our interactions with those around us help us develop social skills, understand norms, and establish our perceptions of the world. Others provide us morals and values, teach us right from wrong, and show us the importance of friendship. Even our negative interactions remind us of the person we do not want to become and help us appreciate true friends.
Think of the people in your life who you feel most comfortable around. The ones who provide support, encourage you, and allow you to be your true self. These are the others that will help you be your best self and improve your mental health. I am willing to bet that these are the people you would call true friends. The Bible reminds us that “friends are like a sturdy shelter: he who finds one has found a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth” (Sirach 6:14-15). Which is to say that finding that person, like a treasure, can be difficult. It took us a considerable amount of time to find a mental health professional that was not only qualified and understood the nature of our work, but who also fit the needs of our diverse group of individuals. Much like our early days looking for friends, we invited our mental health professional into our social circle, introduced her to others in our world and began to let down our guard and build trust.
All of this speaks to the importance of involving others in improving and caring for your mental health and wellness. It’s the reason why we continue to talk about vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue, why our task force mental health program is centered around a licensed professional who can listen and guide those who are affected, and why we encourage our personnel to talk to their co-workers, friends and family about work and life issues. While individual pre-exposure techniques and self-care practices can minimize the daily effects of stress or trauma, nothing is as helpful as someone who understands what you are going through and can provide the needed support.
While some may call it a mental health program, many more may simply call it friendship. Because friendship, like a well-designed mental health plan, is the comfort of knowing that even when you feel alone, you aren’t.
David K. Frattare
David Frattare is the Director of State Investigations and the Commander of the Ohio ICAC Task Force, part of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office. He has been a law enforcement officer for 22 years and serves as a Task Force Officer with Homeland Security Investigations Cleveland . Mr. Frattare serves as a Senior Chaplain with the International Fellowship of Chaplains and is a member of the Westshore Critical Incident Response Service Team.