The Health Benefits of Simply Talking – and Listening

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Featured Image: Someone To Tell It To co-founders Tom Kaden (center) and Michael Gingerich (right) talk to guests at a book signing event at the Capital Blue Cross Connect health and wellness center in Enola. (photo from

By Capital Blue Cross –  THINK (Trusted Health Information, News, and Knowledge) is a community publication of Capital Blue Cross. Our mission is to provide education, resources, and news on the latest health and insurance issues.

Loneliness and social isolation have taken such a toll on our collective health and wellness that federal leaders have labeled it an epidemic. But some are finding therapeutic power in the most basic of human interaction – talking. One nonprofit is trying to make sure everyone who needs to talk will have someone to listen.

Several years ago, Tom Kaden was working in what he describes as a “toxic environment” that was chipping away at his self-worth and happiness.

“Because of that work environment, I was struggling around who I am and what my purpose was in the world,” Kaden recalled. “I needed a compassionate presence that I could just talk to about how I was feeling.”

That compassionate presence turned out to be Michael Gingerich, whom Kaden calls his mentor. The two developed, and still maintain, a strong rapport of trust and support that allows them to confide in each other without fear of judgment.

“Through that experience, I came to realize there were a lot of people like me, people who were just falling through the cracks,” Kaden said.

To fill those cracks, Kaden and Gingerich launched Someone To Tell It To, a non-profit that promotes “the transformative power of listening.” The organization teaches people how to be better listeners and offers listening services to anyone who just needs to talk. The goal is to help people build more supportive relationships and meaningful connections at a time when loneliness has been described as a public health epidemic.

The growing lack of social connection – both before and during the pandemic – has serious health consequences, according to an advisory issued earlier this year by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. The advisory notes:

  • Social isolation and loneliness have been associated with a 29% increase in the risk of heart disease and a 32% increase in the risk of stroke.
  • A lack of social connection can be as harmful to a person’s life expectancy as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
  • Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to an increased likelihood of depression or anxiety, particularly in children and older adults.
  • Chronic loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of developing dementia by 50% in older adults.

The health benefits of talking about our thoughts and feelings have been well documented, and talk therapy has emerged as a key strategy to combat mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

But not everyone can access or afford professional mental health services, so Someone To Tell It To strives to fill that void. Their services are funded through donations and available around the world. The Harrisburg-based organization has provided presentations and trainings as far away as Australia, China and Russia, and offers educational services through books, blogs and podcasts.

The latest book from Gingerich and Kaden – Ascending to 1st Chair: A Lesson in Leadership and Organization Development – was featured at a book signing at the Capital Blue Cross Connect health and wellness center in Enola on Oct. 24.

No matter where their services are provided, there is a universal benefit to people talking and listening to each other, according to Gingerich.

“Whether people are struggling with loneliness, grief, loss … there are commonalities with what all of us are experiencing and what all of us need,” he said. “We all want to be heard and known and ultimately loved.”

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