Mental Health Awareness Week 2022
This week (9-15 May 2022) is Mental Health Awareness Week, which is an annual campaign to raise awareness of mental health matters. This year, the focus is on loneliness.
Human beings have a basic need to feel they belong. Loneliness can therefore have a significant impact on people’s mental health and overall wellbeing. It is important to acknowledge the many different aspects to loneliness and recognise how it can affect our own lives and the lives of others.
What is loneliness?
There are different types of loneliness. Emotional loneliness is when a person lacks an intimate relationship with one special person such as a partner or parent. Social loneliness is when a person lacks friends or doesn’t feel they belong to a community. The immediate cause of loneliness tends to be from an event that causes a substantial shortage in a person’s social relationships. The coronavirus pandemic and its associated lockdowns is a clear example of this.
Loneliness is often associated with older adults, but research has shown that loneliness is highest in late adolescence, gradually declines during middle adulthood and rises again during late adulthood.
Most people will experience short periods of loneliness at some point in their lives. However, when loneliness and feelings of isolation continue over a long period of time and worsen, there are signs that it is becoming a serious problem.
Signs of loneliness
Signs of loneliness can be different for everyone. There are however some common signs that could indicate that someone is struggling with loneliness. These may include: not being able to connect with others on a deeper level; not having any really close or ‘best’ friends; significant feelings of isolation no matter where you are or what company you’re in; low self-worth; you don’t feel seen or heard; and feeling exhausted when you try to engage with others socially. Prolonged loneliness can lead to serious physical and mental health problems including: depression; anxiety; suicidal ideation; sleep disorders; heart disease; substance misuse; and shortened lifespan.
Practical steps to help combat loneliness
You first need to recognise that you are struggling with loneliness in order to do something about it. There are many things that can help reduce loneliness and its associated negative feelings, such as:
- Doing what you enjoy
Taking time to do the things you enjoy can help you to deal with loneliness. Whether it’s a hobby such as gardening, playing sports or baking, doing what you enjoy can be fulfilling, make you feel good and therefore reduce loneliness.
- Getting your mind working
Focusing your mind on certain activities can be a useful way to manage loneliness. Puzzles, courses or listening to podcasts are common ways to engage your mind and this level of concentration can help you feel less lonely.
- Getting involved
There are many groups and communities that focus on certain interests or simply on coming together. Joining a club or community group can enable you to meet new people with common interests, which can provide a sense of belonging. This is a key way to combat loneliness. There are also online community groups that can enable people to feel a part of something, if meeting people in-person is a struggle.
Offering your time to an organisation as a volunteer is a great opportunity to meet people and become part of something. Charities, schools and community groups often need volunteers and providing them with your time can provide you with a purpose and can be very rewarding, as well as benefiting the organisation.
- Moving more
Exercise has a whole host of benefits, including helping to reduce feelings of loneliness. This doesn’t have to mean intense workouts - going outside for a walk can be just as beneficial to your mood.
- Speaking to a professional
The impact of loneliness on mental health should not be underestimated. Speaking to a professional such as a counsellor can help you to understand yourself and where your feelings of loneliness are coming from. Feeling heard can be beneficial in itself, as well as the process of therapy to help you to find ways to best overcome your problems.