The New York Times today carried a feature by Dan Buettner titled “The Island Where People Forget To Die.” It was a fascinating article. It talked of a man who was diagnosed with lung cancer and lived in New York. When he received a veritable death sentence with about six months to live, he decided to move with his wife back to the island of his birth, Ikaria, a Greek island. He was in his mid 60s.
“At first,” Buettner writes, “he spent his days in bed, as his mother and wife tended to him. He reconnected with his faith. On Sunday mornings, he hobbled up the hill to a tiny Greek Orthodox chapel where his grandfather once served as a priest. When his childhood friends discovered that he had moved back, they started showing up every afternoon. They’d talk for hours, an activity that invariably involved a bottle or two of locally produced wine. I might as well die happy, he thought.” But he didn’t die. Today into his 90s he is working in the vineyard and enjoying life. What makes the difference?
The rest of the article goes on to talk about the effects of the natural diet and the pallative effects of herbal drinks that are imbibed daily. One of the overwhelming factors, though, is the community of people. As one islander said, Ikaria is an island of “us” not “me”. Perhaps we are overlooking the possibility that a community of friends and family can make a big difference in our health and in our ability to fight disease. Depression is significantly lower on Ikaria and probably due to the fact that people who care about each other, will not ignore or let someone who is suffering from even a mental illness be forgotten.
Hooray for Ikaria and may we learn that community involvement is perhaps our best weapon against the growing epidemic of depression in our own country.