People with MS, especially the newly diagnosed, often ask, “Is MS fatal?” The good news is, in general, it isn’t. People with cases advanced enough can die from side effects such as infections and pneumonia, but that’s invariably late in life. The conventional wisdom is that the average life span for someone with MS is about the same as someone without the disease.
The one nasty character in this picture, however, is the ugly cousin no one talks about: Suicide. People with MS take their own lives about twice as often as others. That’s sad.
What might be worse is the rate at which people are subtly ending their own lives, without even knowing it. According to this New York Times article from last month, there is an affliction threatening the well-being of everyone in our society, not just those with MS and other chronic illnesses.
Yes, the article tells us, our isolation is killing us, whether we know it (or believe it) or not. Note this paragraph of particular significance to people with MS:
A wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. [Emphasis added]
Altered immune systems? Inflammation? Those of us with MS are intimately familiar with those. (And don’t even get me started on stress.) Now here’s a simple way to positively impact those problems and we have complete control over it.
The answer? “Get together”, as Jesse Colin Young and his Youngbloods told us back in the 60’s. (Ah! Those were the days of peace, love, and rock’n’roll.) Spend time with other people, whether it’s a support group, church, or just hanging out with friends.
This isn’t news. Wise old Solomon said much the same thing a few thousand years ago:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
I’ve also seen anecdotal evidence of this effect. It’s sad to see people drift away on a sinking ship of loneliness when help is as near as their neighbors. Or as near as me.
Why is it that people leap for the chance to take the latest and greatest expensive drugs, all of which have potentially devastating side effects, when this time-tested “social treatment” is available for free and has no side effects? We doubt the easier approach, although it’s backed up by the same scientific research used to test drugs.
The cynic in me says this has something to do with profits and bottom lines, but we all know pharmaceutical companies are philanthropic organizations, right? q.v.