Hiredesai: Making the case for community care

Annika Hiredesai, Assistant Opinion Editor

As a crisis counselor for The Crisis Text Line, I text with individuals who are dealing with complex, ongoing mental health issues. An important part of these conversations is helping people discover more long-term, sustainable avenues for care. Sometimes that can mean sharing resources like a guide to communicating about mental health or drawing from coping skills they have used in the past to practice self-care.

Self-care is ingrained in our cultural vernacular. Often, many think of self-care as a toolkit that one may draw from when facing the immense pressures of our day-to-day lives. Sometimes the most effective acts are the most simple: going for a run on a crisp morning, lighting a candle after a long workday, calling an old friend to catch up. 

Lately, however, I have become increasingly disenchanted with the way we view self-care as the end-all be-all. It is not uncommon for a texter to tell me that they have already been offered a battery of behavioral interventions and no longer wish to pursue those options. I can hear how frustrated they are after trying so hard and feeling like nothing is giving them the relief they deserve. Afterall, how helpful is it to ask someone drowning at work and home if they have been making the time to exercise or read for pleasure? They have enough on their plate already without the pressure to be engaging in self-care.

Conversations like these are what lead me to believe that our culture is sorely lacking in collective care. The World Health Organization insists that “fundamental principles for self-care include aspects of the individual … as well as the greater community.” While we are all quite aware of the individual components of caring for ourselves, community intervention is too often overlooked (which is rather apt for our healthcare system).

Community care, just like self-care, can mean different things for different people. At the individual level, it is about leaning into a support system. It is incredibly difficult to open up, and I oftentimes have people confess that they are afraid of being a burden to someone they care about or that they don’t feel as if they have anyone they trust in their life. That isolation often amplifies the pain the individual is struggling with. After all, we’re all human and need each other from time to time. 

What I love about community care is its emphasis on cultivating a culture of powerful empathy. Actively investing in community care means thinking critically about the needs of those around you, especially when you have the emotional bandwidth to take more on. It is about making a more than cursory effort to check in on your people, to make specific offers to take things off their plate when you can. And when you need it, someone will step up for you, too.

On a policy level, we need to have a greater stake in community health. While we should definitely build out existing healthcare systems, it is equally important to invest across the board in areas like affordable housing, economic development, and education. Neglected community health has been implicated in many issues including chronic disease, which accounts for 90% of annual health care expenses. At some point in our lives, each and every one of us will be overwhelmed by this wonderful thing called life. By expanding our toolkit to include community care, we will be more prepared to ease collective suffering and build a healthier world.Annika Hiredesai is a Weinberg junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.