It’s MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK
A blog from our Social Media guru volunteer, Saoirse Osborne
Struggling with loneliness?
Ironically, you’re not alone.
The Covid-19 lockdowns have created a ‘hidden pandemic’ of loneliness and mental ill-health, with 1 in 14 saying they ‘often’ felt lonely during the pandemic – up 40% from pre-Covid.
That’s why the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, a campaign run by the Mental Health Foundation, is loneliness.
Loneliness is most simply defined as the feeling caused by a lack of meaningful social contact and relationships.
Since the need for social contact varies between individuals, you can be often alone and yet not feel lonely – equally, you can be surrounded by people but still lonely if your relationships don’t make you feel understood or cared for. But it’s still no surprise that the enforced isolation of lockdown increased feelings of loneliness.
Though it’s usually interpreted as more of an emotion than a health problem in itself, loneliness is deeply connected with our mental and physical health. Humans are social animals – feeling isolated activates the areas in the brain which respond to physical pain!
This sends the brain into a state of hyper-alert, leading to a toxic spiral of behaviours: sleep problems, inactivity, risk-taking, and other risk factors for illness.
It’s no surprise, then, that loneliness is closely associated with illness. It’s thought to be as bad for our physical health (increasing the risk of early death) as smoking. And not only is it linked with an increased likelihood of developing mental illnesses like psychosis and depression, but people in mental health crisis who feel lonely experience more severe symptoms, and find it harder to recover.
Equally, mental illness exacerbates loneliness, thanks to (according to one study https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16020072/): ‘impaired ability to make and keep friends, lack of opportunities to participate in social activities, and stigma associated with mental illness that creates barriers between them and their communities.’
Tackling loneliness is key to breaking this vicious cycle. We need more emphasis in mental health treatment for ‘social network interventions’ – services as simple as our Home Visits Service https://hammersleyhomes.org/outreach-services/, which give vulnerable people the chance to form meaningful connections, can make a huge difference.
But anyone, not just people with severe mental illness, can benefit from methods to reduce feelings of loneliness – take a look at Mind’s lists of tips https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/tips-to-manage-loneliness/ and contacts https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/useful-contacts/ to help you manage isolation.
Or you can fight loneliness in others: let’s use #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek as a time to reach out.
Take part in our anti-loneliness campaign – contact someone who may be lonely in whatever way best suits: give them a call or send a letter; invite them for coffee or on a walk.
Tag 3 friends on social media (plus @hammersleyhomes) to encourage them to do the same.
We can only make progress on loneliness together.