Well we’re slowly getting better at talking about mental health and wellbeing.
It’s acknowledged that 1 in 4 of us will suffer from some sort of mental ill health and we realise how easily our lives can become impacted by its effects either personally, or because someone we care about is struggling.
Something that’s still a bit of a taboo subject though and directly impacts mental ill health is the feeling of chronic loneliness. The sustained feeling of sadness many people feel because they have little or no meaningful human connection which can lead to anxiety and depression.
An estimated 8 million people live alone in the UK and while living alone doesn’t automatically make a person lonely, it’s likely to contribute to periods of missing human interactions and passing conversations about nothing in particular.
Loneliness isn’t a new thing created by the pandemic, although the lack of social interaction and enforced self-isolation can’t have helped. Loneliness was here long before Covid-19 began. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness 45% of adults in England feel some degree of loneliness every week, that’s about twenty-five million people.
We tend to assume that it’s only elderly people or people living alone that feel lonesome, when the truth is that under 25s are as likely to feel lonely as those over 65. That could be because most under 25s’ social interactions take place online.
In a society where a person’s character and popularity are based on social media likes and comments it can feel embarrassing to admit that life offline isn’t quite as much fun as they’d want others to believe. When there aren’t hundreds of random followers and friends hanging off every single word it can feel incredibly quiet and hollow when the noise turns off.
Even pre-pandemic social interactions and passing the time of day with a friend, neighbour or even a stranger was gradually becoming a thing of the past. Self-checkouts, ordering deliveries online, people walking around engrossed in their phones or listening to music – with no time to stop and chat. The gradual demise of Post Offices, local shops and pubs has meant that idling away a few minutes of small-talk was already becoming less frequent.
There are lots of different reasons people feel lonely. New parents who feel physically separated from their usual support networks. Employees used to the hustle and noise of a busy office, now sat by themselves at their kitchen table with nobody to talk to but the dog.
School children and older students who miss the closeness of their friends anxious about, if or when they might see each other again. Then of course there’s the sadness and emptiness caused by grief. The family and friends living in different parts of the world who can’t touch or hold each other in their arms.
Couples who live in the same house but never interact on a deeper more meaningful level, each engrossed in their lives online while totally disregarding the person they are physically with.
People who worshipped regularly but can’t attend religious services or meet friends, and elderly people who relied on day centres to fill the void of loneliness. Each is as lonely as the other. Loneliness can literally affect anyone.
Perhaps the hardest part of being lonely is admitting it to yourself, and then doing something about it. If you’re feeling lonely or know someone who is – here are a few ideas that you might want to consider.
1. Pick up the phone, text a friend and arrange a time to call them. Conversations are often more meaningful than a series of texts, you can check in on each other and arrange to do something when it’s safe to do so. If you don’t feel like you have someone that you can speak to then get in touch with The Campaign to End Loneliness that has a befriending service. www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/helpful-links
2. Volunteer. Loneliness often arises when we don’t feel we have anyone to share our true worth, value or purpose with. There are lots of community groups that would gladly accept the help of a volunteer – it’s a great way to meet new people and give back to the area you live in doinggoodleeds.org.uk
3. Do you have a passion or hobby? I can guarantee that whatever you’re into has a website or a Facebook page dedicated to it. Log on and find like-minded people to chat with about your passions.
4. If you are fit and able, go for a walk – it’s a good way to meet people and strike up (socially distant) conversations while getting fresh air and a change of scenery. I find early morning dog walkers pretty sociable!
5. Reconnect with good friends you have lost touch with. It might feel awkward at first, but once the ice is broken it might be like you were never apart. The hardest part is making the first move, you never know they might be feeling the same way that you are.
6. Consider life beyond lockdown, what would you like to do? What would make you happy? Make a list of all the things you want to enjoy. There are friendship groups that cater for single people who are just interested in making new friends to socialise with. Walking, gardening, book clubs, restaurant visits, days out etc. There’s usually a subscription fee to join, but there’s usually plenty of activities to choose from and there’s bound to be something you like the sound of. Find a group that aligns with what you are interested in.
7. There are currently 37,000 elderly people living in isolation in Leeds. If you’ve made a meal and have a little over, could you drop it off (safely) for an elderly neighbour who is living alone? For more information about how you could help an elderly person in your area visit www.ageuk.org.uk/leeds
This post was written by Shannon Humphrey, a First Aid for Mental Health Instructor. Find out more about the work she does at www.pathwaysforpositivity.com – 07470 887783