The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness. Exploring the experience, it’s effect on mental health and how we can all play a part in reducing loneliness in our communities, aiming to take a major step towards a mentally healthy society.
Did you know one in four adults feel lonely some of all of the time? The thing is, there’s no single cause and there’s definitely not one single solution, after all we’re all different. But, the longer we feel lonely the more we’re at risk of mental health problems. So, what can we do about it? And why do so many people feel lonely? We’ve collated the information provided by the Mental Health Foundation and their research below.
We all know what loneliness feels like, and being lonely from time to time is normal. However, there are certain factors that increase our chances of lasting loneliness, and when loneliness is severe or lasts a long time, it can negatively affect our mental health. These include:
- Being widowed
- Being single
- Being unemployed
- Living alone
- Having a long-term health condition or disability
- Living in rented accommodation
- Being between 16 and 24 years old
- Being a carer
- Being from an ethnic minority community
- Being LGBTQ+
But why is loneliness so negative when it comes to mental health? The thing is loneliness can make it harder to connect, can in turn make people afraid of entering social situations, exacerbating the problem further, and making it harder to find joy in life and escape negative thoughts.
As well as having such a deep effect on the mental health of individuals, evidence also shows that loneliness leads to greater pressure on public services through, things like increased GP visits, longer hospital stays, and the costs of associated conditions such as depression and diabetes.
So now we know why combatting loneliness is so important, but what can you do to tackle your own loneliness, or support those feeling lonely in your community?
Coping Strategies for Loneliness
1. Try to do some enjoyable things that will keep you busy
Keeping busy and doing things we enjoy is one way of trying to manage loneliness. Think gardening, going to the gym or even sorting out your kitchen cupboards. Small activities can give you energy and positive feelings.
It’s important these things are fun or fulfilling, so be careful of doing things to simply provide distraction like taking on too much work or watching TV shows simply as a distraction. These could just delay or suppress your feelings instead, in turn actually making your mental health worse.
2. Try to do things that stimulate your mind
Activities that occupy your mind can help with loneliness, so it’s time to stimulate your mind! Taking courses or listening to podcasts on topics from comedy to fitness. These can be stimulating and something as simple as listening to the familiar voice of someone you like can help you feel less lonely.
3. Think about doing a physical activity
Physical exercise can help with loneliness, and it doesn’t have to be extreme. A walk in the park when you’re feeling overwhelmed, listening to music and dancing around your living room. It’s as simple as that.
4. Try to engage with the people you meet in your daily life.
Talking to others when you feel lonely can be difficult. However, trying to connect with the people you meet as you go about your day can be helpful. Saying hello to a delivery driver, catching someone’s eye on a walk and saying “hi.” By sharing a polite greeting you might find you give someone else a positive lift as well as yourself.
5. Find people that ‘get you’
Connecting with others when you’re feeling lonely can be hard. But there are benefits in finding people who have been through similar experiences to you. Finding people that ‘get’ you can give you a sense of belonging that may be missing, whether that’s through local groups or social media.
6. Spend time with pets
Not only do animals provide us with unconditional love and support, but they also help to give structure to our days and even encourage us to get out and connect with others. If you’re lucky enough to own one, interaction with pets is also shown to help reduce stress levels.
7. Try to use social media in a positive way
With both positive and negative connotations, social media when used in the right way can help with feelings of loneliness. Finding digital communities that share your interests and passions can help you feel less alone. Try to be aware of how you feel when you use social media and focus on topics and activities that work best for you.
8. Talking therapies can help
Talking therapy can be hard to get – but if you can find a professional, it can really be of benefit. It’ll provide you with a safe space to work through your feelings and thoughts without judgement. Check out your local resources by visiting the NHS website.
How to support other people who are feeling lonely
1. Don’t judge or stigmatise
Stigma around loneliness is a huge barrier to the kind of open and genuine conversations that can help, so it’s important not to judge or stigmatise people who feel lonely and how common it is. It’s a normal feeling that all of us are likely to experience at some time in our lives. Telling other people that their poor mental health is the reason why they are feeling lonely is really not helpful.
2. Try to make groups welcoming to other people
It can be difficult for people who are feeling lonely to join a group like a club, so it’s important try to make groups be as welcoming as possible to newcomers, as well as being flexibile around things like how often people attend.
3. Try to listen and show understanding
Having an understanding and compassionate approach, and not ignoring the person’s experience, will help them to feel heard and understood.
Need Mental Health Support?
If you’re concerned that you are developing a mental health problem you should seek the advice and support of your GP as a matter of priority. If you need immediate help you can and should visit your local A&E. Below are some mental health support resources recommended by the Mental Health Foundation. They also offer additional information on how to access support here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help
Talk to the Samaritans
The Samaritans offer emotional support 24 hours a day - in full confidence.
Call 116 123 - it's FREE
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Shout Crisis Text Line
For support in a crisis, Text Shout to 85258.
If you’re experiencing a personal crisis, are unable to cope and need support.
Shout can help with urgent issues such as: Suicidal thoughts, Abuse or assault, Self-harm, Bullying, Relationship challenges.
Rethink Mental Illness
You can call the Rethink advice and information line Monday to Friday, 10am-2pm for practical advice on: different types of therapy and medication, benefits, debt, money issues, police, courts, prison, your rights under the Mental Health Act.
Call Rethink on 0300 5000 927 (calls are charged at your local rate).
The Mind infoline
Mind offer an information line to answer questions about: types of mental health problem, where to get help, drug and alternative treatments, advocacy.
Call the Mind infoline on 0300 123 3393 (UK landline calls are charged at local rates, and charges from mobile phones will vary considerably).
Or email email@example.com.
The Mind Legal Advice service
If you need legal advice, you can speak to Mind about: mental health, mental capacity, community care, human rights and discrimination/equality related to mental health issues.
Call the Mind Legal Advice service on 0300 466 6463 (UK landline calls are charged at local rates, and charges from mobile phones will vary considerably). Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.