Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 is almost upon us 9- 15 May 2022. This year’s theme is loneliness. We therefore thought it apt to write this month’s blog on that very topic. Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation said:

“Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic.  That is why we have chosen it as our theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2022.  Our connection to other people and our community is fundamental to protecting our mental health so we much find better ways of tackling the epidemic of loneliness. We can all play a part in this.  The week is also an invaluable opportunity for people to talk about all aspects of mental health, with a focus on providing help and advice.”

Loneliness doesn’t just affect our mental health

Loneliness does not just affect our mental health. Campaign to end Loneliness cite research which highlights the physical effects of loneliness. It is worse for you than obesity and a risk factor for high blood pressure.

You can find resources and ideas for mental health awareness week through the Mental Health Foundation

So what is loneliness? Humans are social beings. We are neurologically wired to connect with others. Going back to our hunter-gatherer days we had a greater chance of survival in a group. Loneliness has been said by some that it is a biological instinct to remind us we need to re-join the group to survive.

That said, being on our own isn’t always a negative experience. An introvert gets their energy from within and therefore time alone helps those individuals to re-energise after spending lots of time with others.

Being alone doesn’t always mean being lonely. Consider solitude- a term associated with something positive. A state of being alone, where many people see “just an hour of solitude would be wonderful.” It allows us to get away from the busy world within which we live and gives us an inner sense of calm. The difference with solitude however is there is a choice, and it is a temporary choice. We experience solitude with the knowledge that we will be going back to the group shortly afterwards.

Loneliness on the other hand is not something we usually embrace. And we don’t have to be alone to experience it. Loneliness is subjective in that regard. It is how we are feeling in that moment. There are many causes of loneliness. Some of which are:

 

  • Life events such as bereavement, relationship break up or redundancy
  • Moving to a new area, or starting university
  • For some it is particular times of the year such as Christmas

 

Mind.org also highlight research which suggests that people who live in certain circumstances, or belong to particular groups, are more vulnerable to loneliness. For example, if you:

  • have no friends or family
  • are estranged from your family
  • are a single parent or care for someone else– you may find it hard to maintain a social life
  • belong to minority groups and live in an area without others from a similar background
  • are excluded from social activities due to mobility problems or a shortage of money
  • experience discrimination and stigma because of a disability or long-term health problem, including mental health problems
  • experience discrimination and stigma because of your gender, race or sexual orientation
  • have experienced sexual or physical abuse– you may find it harder to form close relationships with other people.

 

The impact of our wellbeing on loneliness

When our wellbeing is deteriorating it increases the likelihood of experiencing loneliness.

We can be proactive around our wellbeing to boost our wellness which in turn can reduce the likelihood of feeling lonely. We feel more confident and have more self-esteem when we are well and therefore feel more able to go out and get what we need in terms of connecting with others.

Being alone can cause depression. Those with mental health issues often withdraw and isolate themselves from others. Then by withdrawing and isolating the feelings of loneliness are amplified. It can be a vicious cycle. Mind explain this on their website and they have information and tips to combat feelings of loneliness https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/tips-to-manage-loneliness/

If you are unsure of how to boost your wellbeing the Every Mind Matters Mind Plan is a great tool to get you started.

Loneliness isn’t just about being alone

Loneliness isn’t just about who you have, or don’t have around you. Consider how you felt when you didn’t get picked for a team, or you don’t get invited to an event. It may be you are going through something significant at home that you feel unable to talk to friends or colleagues about- either they wouldn’t understand, or you don’t want to be a burden.

Being alone is different from feeling alone and many people with mental health issues can feel alone. I delivered a course a few years ago now to a company and what happened has always stuck with me. There were 16 delegates, 11 said they felt alone in what they were experiencing right now personally. Through the course these 11 people opened up and shared something they were dealing with. One of the comments was “I can’t believe I take breaks, have lunch with these people every day and I never felt able to talk. I felt so alone with what I was dealing with until now.”

Therefore, encouraging a culture where people can accept, support and listen to each other can be incredibly helpful in combating people feeling alone.

Ways to combat loneliness
  • Reach out to others, particularly if you’ve not heard from them in a while
  • Volunteering for something you are passionate about
  • Team sports- these are available for all levels and all abilities
  • Take time out for you and to look after yourself
  • Seek help to manage negative thought cycles