All of us would agree we live in decidedly different times than we have experienced before.  Never in our lifetimes have so many people been so uncertain about so many things, and literally so afraid.

The coronavirus and economic challenges are not the only challenges, however.  The challenge which has been lurking in the wings for a while is one many may experience without giving it a name. But the experts give it a name.

These professionals tell us regularly that a quiet sense of loneliness, isolation, despondency, depression and more, is loose, especially now in these times of uncertainty and fear.  And much like the virus and the downturn in the economy, it is indiscriminate about the doors on which it chooses to knock.

The last severe economic downturn in 2009 gave us a glimpse of the looming darkness of mind and spirit, but it did not reveal the full depth of it.

During that time, the governing board of the North Carolina Bar Association strongly encouraged local bar associations to participate in a program which allowed lawyers to receive three free confidential sessions to discuss their dark moods associated with the challenging times, and the nature of their Type A mental motors. Some local associations said they did not need to fund this program. Until three prominent lawyers in two of these local bar associations, in a two-month period, took their own lives.

The funding issue was quickly remedied.

Studies are very clear that so many of us deal with various levels of depression, appropriately named the Black Dog by Winston Churchill. But the Black Dog is with us even in the good times. We just see him better when the economy or another significant challenge takes us to our low tide.

Lawyers, doctors, and other Type A personalities in our midst, despite their relative financial security even in more challenging economic times, are especially at risk, although many are shocked to learn this.

The recent suicide of a prominent young medical doctor in NYC amid the coronavirus epidemic, a star among stars, has brought the dilemma of mental health challenges to the attention of the broader national audience.

But these challenges, the truth be told, affect all of us, and they extend well beyond the health care need spike we are experiencing now.  And much like the coronavirus, these challenges have been with us much longer than most of us realize.

A root cause of why more of us, even the most seemingly secure among us, keep our internal challenges from dark moods and depression hidden is we are afraid of what others may think.  We view it as a sign of weakness.

Pride, the deadliest sin of them all, in one of life’s most ironic twists, sometimes makes lonely and isolated people, amid a host of other people who are also internally lonely and isolated, all feel alone, together. At the same time.

Economists try to calculate the present impact of the coronavirus pandemic.  But long before this period, experts have warned us that the full reach of the Black Dog in all its forms, year in and year out, has a larger negative impact on the economic productivity in America than any other single cause.

What do we do about it?

Part of the answer may lie in the lessons learned from the Greatest Generation. If we are smart and thoughtful enough to see them and follow them.

One of the stories our parents used to tell many of us was about the rationing of essential food products in WW II. In my family’s story, our mom would work with Doris Slack and others up the road on Watts Hill to alert the friend network when key food products, such as sugar, came to the store. They called it their “buddy system.”

Our mom told this story and others like it with such spirit. The importance of this story was less about the sugar than the common effort larger than yourself. A one for all effort in a time of struggle.

These friends, like my parents and your parents, also kept up with the ups and downs of their friends, and they especially kept in touch with those friends who were going through a struggle. If you grew up in the Great Depression and you went through a world war, you knew you needed to keep your friends close, and your shared struggles even closer. You were, after all, in it together.

Maybe this is part of the humble character of the Greatest Generation which draws us and chroniclers of history to its example. Its members were bound together by the times, gaining a special courage hewn out of the hard rock of their shared struggles. They kept a listening ear to the ground to each other’s challenges, fears, periods of sadness, and more, and they leaned on that buddy system to see their way through. And sometimes a shared story with a listening ear of your neighbor, living in the house next door or up the road, helped to reveal the pathway to a better view of it all.

Which suggests that this intangible connection can find a home with us in our times, depending on how we respond.

The greatest lesson of the Greatest Generation is that it was and is all about the We. History is not about you.  Or me.  It is the We that matters. It is the We which brought them through the Great Depression and WWII, and it is the We which will see our way through our struggles if we follow their lead and stick together in this one.

We are going to have to look after one another, and ourselves.  Even when it is hard. Especially when it is hard. Because the defining courage of our times and our special challenge is being hewn out of the hard rock of our common struggles in live time.

What I have learned on the way to the courthouse is this:  The proverbial trip wire of so many is clearly exposed. We need to keep up with our friends, especially those who are physically alone, or who are going through a tough patch, and to see how they are doing.  We need to remember to keep them close. We are, after all, in this struggle together, too.

We need to do everything we can to validate the importance of getting appropriate assistance to those who have hit a low spot.  We need to help our friends talk frankly about their challenges, and we need to find a path to deal better with our own dark moods, if we have them. These can be life’s release valves of the pressure of it all if we just have the courage to lean on another caring soul to help us see our struggle through.

If we applaud the special courage of our first responders, as well we should, don’t you think we should carve out our own special brand of courage to encourage our friends, and ourselves, to deal with our own internal challenges?

Great crises shape great character, pundits tell us.  It is not hyperbole to ask: when history writes its chapter on our greatest crisis, what will it say?  I hope it will say we had the courage to drop our mask of pride, and in the process to look after the least and most vulnerable among us, including ourselves if we hit a low spot.  But a lot of that depends on whether we will discern the greatest insight of the Greatest Generation and have the good sense to follow it. Will we harness that insight to be that friend up the road on our own Watts Hill that the Song of Our Age calls on us to be?

Mike Wells


Here are the words to what has been called the Song of our Age, “Lean on Me,” written by Bill Withers.

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show
You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on

If there is a load you have to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road,
I’ll share your load

If you just call me (call me)
If you need a friend (call me) call me uh huh(call me)


Mike Wells is a partner with Wells Law, PLLC in Winston-Salem.  His email address is and his telephone number is 336.283.8700.