Loneliness and our mental health
Mental Health Awareness Week will take place during 09-15th May 2022
This year, Mental Health Awareness Week aims to bring people together through raising awareness of loneliness. Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic. Our connection to other people and our community is fundamental to protecting our mental health and we need to find better ways of tackling the epidemic of loneliness. We can all play a part in this.
So, for Mental Health Awareness Week in May, we will be raising awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental wellbeing and the practical steps we can take to address it.
Reducing loneliness is a major step towards a mentally healthy society.
Loneliness and mental health
We all feel lonely from time to time. Feelings of loneliness are personal, so everyone’s experience of loneliness will be different. One common description of loneliness is the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met. But loneliness is not always the same as being alone. You may choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while others may find this a lonely experience. Or you may have lots of social contact, or be in a relationship or part of a family, and still feel lonely – especially if you don’t feel understood or cared for by the people around you
Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely.
For example, some people may have misconceptions about what certain mental health problems mean, so you may find it difficult to speak to them about your problems.
Or you may experience social phobia – also known as social anxiety – and find it difficult to engage in everyday activities involving other people, which could lead to a lack of meaningful social contact and cause feelings of loneliness.
Feeling lonely can also have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time. Some research suggests that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.
Loneliness has many different causes, which vary from person to person. We don’t always understand what it is about an experience that makes us feel lonely.
For some people, certain life events may mean they feel lonely, such as:
- experiencing a bereavement
- going through a relationship break-up
- retiring and losing the social contact you had at work
- changing jobs and feeling isolated from your co-workers
- starting at university
- moving to a new area or country without family, friends or community networks.
Other people find they feel lonely at certain times of the year, such as around Christmas.
Some research suggests that people who live in certain circumstances, or belong to particular groups, are more vulnerable to loneliness. For example, if you:
- have no friends or family
- are estranged from your family
- are a single parent or care for someone else – you may find it hard to maintain a social life
- belong to minority groups and live in an area without others from a similar background
- are excluded from social activities due to mobility problems or a shortage of money
- experience discrimination and stigma because of a disability or long-term health problem, including mental health problems
- experience discrimination and stigma because of your gender, race or sexual orientation
- have experienced sexual or physical abuse – you may find it harder to form close relationships with other people.
Some people find these ideas useful, but remember that different things work for different people at different times. Only try what you feel comfortable with, and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. If something isn’t working for you (or doesn’t feel possible just now), you can try something else, or come back to it another time.
Take it slow
If you’ve felt lonely for a long time, even if you already know lots of people, it can be terrifying to think about trying to meet new people or opening up to people for the first time. But you don’t need to rush into anything.
For example, you could try doing an online activity where other people attend but you’re not expected to interact with them, such as a drawing lesson. Or if you’re interested in joining a new group or class, you could ask whoever runs the sessions if you can just watch at first, rather than taking part.
Simply knowing that other people are there may be enough to help with some feelings of loneliness.
Try peer support
There are many different types of peer support service, which provide people with a space to use their own experiences to help and support each other, including experiences of loneliness and related mental health problems. These are some different types of peer support which you may find useful. Call our Information Line 24/7 to find out about support available locally.
Make new connections
If you are feeling lonely because of a lack of satisfying social contact in your life, you could try to meet more, or different people.
- Try to join a class or group based on your hobbies or interests. This could include online groups if you can’t attend things in person.
- If you are able to, volunteering is a good way of meeting people. Helping others can also really help improve your mental health. Why not volunteer with Hull and East Yorkshire Mind? Find out more here.
Try to open up
You might feel that you know plenty of people, but what is actually wrong is that you don’t feel close to them, or they don’t give you the care and attention you need.
In this situation it might help to open up about how you feel to friends and family. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to the people you know, you could try speaking with a therapist or a using a peer support service.
Be careful when comparing yourself to others
It is very hard to stop comparing ourselves to others. We all do it, but it can help to just be aware that things are not always what they seem from the outside. For example on social media, we very often only see what other people want to share about their lives, and this can make us feel like we are the only ones feeling lonely. It’s important to remind yourself that you don’t know how other people feel when they are alone, or when their social media feeds are turned off. And if you have a lack of confidence in yourself or your life when compared to others, and you think that this might be contributing to your feelings of loneliness.
Look after yourself
Feeling lonely can be very stressful and can have a big impact on your general wellbeing, which might make it even harder to make positive steps to feeling better. Think about how some of the following are affecting how you feel and whether you can do anything to change them:
- Try to get enough sleep. Getting too little or too much sleep can have a big impact on how you feel.
- Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels.
- Try to do some physical activity. Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing, and some people find it helps improve their self-esteem.
- Spend time outside. Spending time in green space can help your wellbeing.
- Spend time with animals. Some people find spending time around animals can help with feelings of loneliness, whether through owning a pet or spending time around animals in their natural environment. If it is possible where you live, you could try visiting a local community or city farm.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. While you might want to use drugs and alcohol to cope with difficult feelings about yourself, in the long run they can make you feel worse and can prevent you from dealing with underlying problems.
#Connect4 for better mental health across East Riding of Yorkshire
Hull and East Yorkshire Mind is happy to be working alongside East Riding of Yorkshire Council on the brand new #Connect4 campaign – an initiative for local people.
The concept is simple. Throughout May, we are encouraging people to consciously connect with themselves and others within their community. Whether you wish to practice self-care and connect with yourself, or join a group to connect with your local community – it all helps. There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world. With this in mind, try to do something different this Mental Health Awareness Week and make a connection.
Self-care is about looking after yourself and your mental health. The relationship you have with yourself is crucial to your own wellbeing. Being kind to yourself regularly is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Why not try:
- Spend 15–30 minutes each day doing something that uplifts you.
- Do something to wind down at the end of each day.
- Take a few minutes each day to appreciate yourself.
- Remember what you have achieved and celebrate that.
It’s clear that social relationships are critical for promoting wellbeing and for acting as a buffer against mental ill health for people of all ages. With this in mind, try to do something different today and make a connection.
- Arrange a day out with friends you have not seen for a while
- Try switching off the TV to talk or play a game with your children, friends or family
- Have lunch with a colleague, friend or family member
- Visit a friend or family member who needs support or company
Connecting with others in your community is an important part of belonging. Making new friends and contacts helps you feel good, and might help you find an activity you really enjoy, or even a job. Here are some ideas:
- Join a local community group to help meet new people
- Volunteer with your local charity and offer a helping hand
- Get involved with your local faith community
- Join activities and programs at your local community centre
Connecting with Hull and East Yorkshire Mind will help you, and others to get the support that we all deserve. It doesn’t have to just mean getting support, there are lots of other ways that you can connect with us. Here are some ideas:
- Get 24/7 information and advice
- Volunteer with us and help us to support other local people
- Fundraise for us and help us to raise money to change lives
- Share your stories to help us raise awareness locally