Over 100 Hudson Valley Residents Attend Film’s Premiere: Loneliness and Resilience Take Centerstage

CARMEL, NY–Last week, more than 60 Putnam residents gathered in Carmel and dozens more watched remotely from the Poughkeepsie Public Library to view an inspiring documentary “All The Lonely People.” Participants from both locations stayed on afterwards to talk with the filmmakers Joseph Applebaum and Stu Maddox. They headlined the panel discussion in the Putnam County auditorium at the Bureau of Emergency Services and answered questions about how their film came to be and what changes they hope it will launch. It was part of two-month, 20-county tour in New York State for their film, which was created to spur social change.

Loneliness and social isolation have been the topic of health research for decades and surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy began calling it an epidemic more than two years before the pandemic began. The film was also well into production before the world encountered COVID, the filmmakers explained. The film’s urgency grew of course, as it tells the story of how for the past two years, a handful of people overcame crippling social isolation and loneliness with breathtaking stories of resilience. Despite the film’s poignancy, in introducing the film the creators expressed hope that the discussions afterwards would be as beneficial as the film itself.

Loneliness is a natural part of the human experience, explained Eric Toth, who was part of the panel discussion. Mr. Toth is executive director of CoveCare, a Putnam County mental health and addiction counseling services group. When loneliness is chronic and debilitating, it becomes problematic, often cited as being as detrimental to one’s health as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness should also be viewed through the lens of health equity. Certain populations including LGBTQ populations, and both youth and the elderly are at higher risk for serious loneliness that affects health and quality of life.

Michael Cunningham, director of the Putnam County Office for Senior Resources, who was instrumental in bringing the film to Putnam, and Shanna Siegel, supervising public health educator at the Putnam County Department of Health, also participated in the discussions. Mr. Cunningham pointed out that how much has changed in our way of life in the last two to three generations and this has resulted in many struggling with loneliness, made that much more critical by COVID.

Despite the challenge and inherent sadness of the pandemic, the film portrayed the clear call of resilience. Numerous “loneliness life hacks” appeared throughout the film such as connecting with nature or expressing gratitude, all of which have social research and history of success to back them up. A question from the Poughkeepsie audience asked about low-cost interventions that local governments could easily implement. One suggestion touted in the discussions was the “chat bench,” which offers a seat to someone who is open to a conversation from a passerby. Another mentioned by Shanna Siegel described a multigenerational program “seniors helping seniors” that put seniors seeking online COVID vaccine registration in touch with tech-savvy high school seniors who helped them register.

Many things can cause loneliness and while it may be different for individuals, many experiences commonly affect people. For more information on these factors and to see a list of all twelve “loneliness life hacks,” visit the website of the production company the Clowder Group, at https://www.allthelonelypeoplefilm.com/.
The Putnam County Office for Senior Resources serves the seniors of Putnam County, providing senior center programs, nutritious lunches, transportation, home-delivered meals, recreation, and other services that address the social determinants of health and support seniors living at home as independently as possible.