The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness. Here are some ideas to help if you are feeling lonely and isolated.
Loneliness isn’t just about being alone. You can spend most of your time on your own and not feel lonely – and be 100 per cent okay about that. Or you can have plenty of contact with friends and family, be in a relationship and still feel lonely inside.
Loneliness is often described as a feeling we experience if there is a mismatch between the social interaction we have and the connection we want. So it’s more about the quality, rather than the quantity, of contacts with others.
Feeling lonely and mental health are closely linked. Loneliness can often lead and develop into a mental health problem – and a mental health problem can increase the likelihood of a person feeling lonely and isolated. Being lonely over a long period of time, in particular, can adversely impact your mental wellbeing – with some research suggesting that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, stress and low self-esteem.
Certainly more people experienced loneliness and isolation due to successive lockdowns during the pandemic – and it’s on the increase among people of all ages and backgrounds.
So what can we do if we’re feeling lonely – and how can we help others who are experiencing loneliness? Here are a few ideas:
- Try to talk more regularly to friends and family and experiment with online platforms, such as Facetime, WhatsApp or Zoom, where you can chat and see faces. This might help you to feel more connected.
- Try opening up to friends and family and being honest about feeling alone. But if this isn’t possible, you could contact a mental health professional to talk to in a more meaningful way.
- Get out and about more. Going for a walk and taking in nature won’t cure loneliness, but it may help you feel more grounded and improve your mental wellbeing.
- Think about getting a pet if you’re able, or even volunteering for an animal care charity. Interaction with animals can provide companionship, reduce feelings of isolation and improve wellbeing.
- Look after your physical health. Eat healthily and take regular exercise. Diet and the amount of exercise we get have a big impact on our mood and wellbeing. Going outside to exercise, for example, walking for just 20 minutes in a local park, can help us feel more connected to others and improve our mood.
- Explore your interests and think about signing up for a club or classes to meet new people. It could open up a whole new world!
- If you have mobility issues, online clubs, groups and classes are a great way to meet new people – and there’s a huge range of them out there for all interests and hobbies. They give you the opportunity to socially interact with people with similar interests from the safety and convenience of your own home.
- Therapy, specifically talking therapy, is a good way to explore your feelings and talk to a professional about ways you can help improve your mental wellbeing.
- If you know someone who you suspect is lonely, why not send them a message and suggest a meet-up or a time for a phone call? It could make all the difference to the way they feel and help them build new relationships.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with mental health, you can find sources of local support on this website.