The Loneliness Epidemic, Netflix, and Community Building

Deb Schell
4 min readMay 15


I’ve been obsessed with Firefly Lane on Netflix this weekend.

It’s a story of friendship through good times and bad. It’s a story about motherhood, daughterhood, and being girlfriends. It reminds me of how I want to show up or wish things were different. It’s an experience that brings me to tears and helps me laugh.

Since the early days of my life, most of my learning has come from books, teachers, and mentors who’ve guided me to become a creator. It wasn’t long before I learned that being creative wasn’t the preferred career choice for most. One of the teachers who encouraged me the most was an art teacher in middle school who encouraged me to explore my curiosity, which wasn’t always appreciated.

There are only a few teachers I remember that impacted my life, and in my childhood, this art teacher was one of them. Later I learned that he died by suicide. I never had a grief counselor or anyone really to talk to about it, except a few friends who told me about the incident on the way to see The Lion King (in the movie theater).

Today there are many resources for mental health, yet we still have a stigma around it. While we have so much more of an understanding of the causes and effects of mental health, we still aren’t funding it. I’m not sure why.

When people are happier and healthier, we all benefit.

Last year I applied for a grant (which I didn’t receive) for funds to help build an online community dedicated to reducing the rate of suicides in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. In addition, increase support due to the limited resources. The county has 1 mental health provider for 460 residents of the county.

A study published by Springer Nature in February of 2022 found that online peer support communities positively benefit those suffering from mental health challenges and public interest in evidence-based interventions. The findings support the research that online communities can play a key role in helping to better meet the needs of people living with mental illness.

While the county is sorting out the best way to use revenue from the COVID-19 Pandemic relief fund, it has really had me think about the shift we see in the education system, not just for children but for adults. When I think about how I have learned since the innovation of technology, it has been online. My learning has been focused on programs, software, and understanding complex systems and how I fit within these systems.

A report was released titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation” to inform US citizens of the dangers of loneliness, what can develop when it isn’t addressed, and offers solutions for our future. The key takeaways listed in the document state a few basic concepts:

  • Humans are wired for social connection, but we’ve become isolated. Since we are no longer working in offices, in fields, or in large mines, we now connect in a different way — virtually instead of in a physical space.
  • Social connection improves the health and well-being of all individuals. Simply acknowledging others and making an effort to build a relationship with new people encourages positive outcomes in mental and physical health.
  • Together, we can be better prepared to serve the needs of our local community when we know our neighbors, understand our local resources, and build relationships with each other. It starts with knowing that each action we take matters.

It starts with one conversation at a time.

This past weekend I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts called We Can Do Hard Things with host Glennon Doyle. The episode titled: How to Follow the Wisdom of Your Body with Dr. Hillary McBride was a deep dive into what it’s like to experience personal growth and the conversations that emerge following these “growth spurts,” I like to call them.

Whatever this looks like for you, or what you call them, when you ask many questions, are really curious about life, or why things are a certain way, you are on a journey of discovery. On that journey, you’ll meet so many people along the way. Just like in Firefly Lane, it starts with asking a few questions and having one conversation at a time.

The ties between journalism and community building are seriously unique. If you wish to be a news reporter or investigative journalist, guess what — you still can! The key to a successful community is understanding your membership. Community builders take the same approach journalists take — they ask questions and seek to understand others.

Just like making friends at your local association, online communities need to be welcoming and invite members to feel like they belong, so offering a place for those to feel a sense of belonging may be the biggest value you can give.

Take Action

  • Could you identify what you need to feel more connected to others?
  • Ask others what they need to feel more connected to others.
  • Seeking to understand what people say helps them feel connected.

Things to do, experience, or read

For questions and comments, email



Deb Schell

Find calm building a business you love.