The Humanist Dilemma: Feeling Isolated and Stuck, Seeking Humanity

Experiencing an ethical dilemma? Need advice from a humanist perspective?

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I’m in Crisis: I’ve been living in a small town for ten years and still don’t know anyone. Have tried, but if you don’t know anyone here you never will. (Bunch of inbred rednecks.) I moved here to take care of my aging/dying father, but due to financial problems I can’t leave. Don’t know how much longer I can last (if you take my meaning). Depression has taken over my life. Nowhere to turn. At end of my rope. Need help now. Mobile crisis useless. Doctors useless. Professionals/counselors/mental healthcare workers all useless. HELP! NOW!

—Running Out of Time!


Dear Running,

I wasn’t going to answer you in this column because your letter is so far beyond the parameters of what a weekly advice column can address, particularly when there’s such urgency and my response wouldn’t be published for at least a week. But I decided to go ahead in the hope that it might be helpful to you, as well as to other readers.

You pretty thoroughly name and dismiss everything I would have suggested: developing friendships and community where you are or moving elsewhere, and seeking help through suicide hotlines, crisis centers, psychiatrists, and therapists. All I can suggest is to keep trying, but perhaps first go to a psychiatric hospital or even an emergency room and announce that you require immediate crisis intervention.

Perhaps showing up at an established support group like Alcoholics Anonymous would lead to some fruitful alternatives or appropriate referrals. (In the case of AA, do be sure to check whether the meeting is an “open” meeting, welcome to anyone.)

If there are any secular organizations in your area, check them out as opportunities to find like-minded people and develop friendships. Even visiting local religious organizations for the community might lead to some relief. Continue exploring online offerings from organizations like the American Humanist Association, where you can feel welcome and supported.

One more option might be getting involved in volunteer work, helping yourself by helping others. It could be a shelter or soup kitchen, tending a local park or community garden, or providing companionship to elderly or homebound people. Anything that would forge connections and provide a sense of belonging and value is worth checking out. Most importantly, remember that all human beings have inherent worth, including you and the people living around you, and that life can change in a flash, for better or worse. Feelings of despair can lift if you make yourself receptive to that possibility. Here’s hoping that in the near future you can look back at this moment in your life and be grateful you got past it.