This week (9-15 May 2022) is Mental Health Awareness week with the theme of loneliness. I spoke to Helen, our business support manager at Inclusive Change about what loneliness meant to her. 

When I first thought about this theme, I have to admit the first group of people who popped into my mind were the elderly, but on doing some research I discovered that 1 in 4 of us feel lonely at some point in our lives.  This got me thinking about what loneliness actually is.

“ I usually think of loneliness as not being able to see people or spend time with people.  While this is true and we all have experience of this with the covid lockdowns over the past couple of years.  I have come to realise that loneliness is much deeper than that, it is still possible to be desperately lonely even though you may have a job, a family, a partner or friends.  The important thing is the level of connection we have with those people and this is why so many peoples loneliness goes unnoticed.  There are new mums on their own while their partner is at work, miserable and lonely and feeling guilty for feeling that way because everyone says that babies are a joy.  There’s the dad with depression who struggles to get anything done but knows his family needs his income and so pushes on alone and doesn’t want to see his doctor because he’s worried about what his mates will say. Loneliness can also be a direct result from discrimination due to race, religious beliefs, gender identity etc

 While loneliness can lead to mental health problems, the opposite can also be true too, there is still a stigma around mental illness and it can be found that sometimes family and friends back away because mental health is difficult and it can be hard to know how best to help, or because the person who needs help so good at hiding it that those close to them are oblivious.

If you can, not just this week but always, think of those around you.  Pop in for a cup of tea and a chat with an elderly neighbour.  Contact the friend who’s had a baby and you’ve not heard from in a couple of weeks.  Offer to babysit for a single Mum who can’t remember the last time she had a night off. Be a shoulder to cry on for the friend who’s just left an abusive relationship.  Say ‘good morning’ to the grumpy chap 2 doors down, even though he won’t reply, because you might be the only human contact he has all day.

 If you are worried about someone, start a conversation, ask them if they are ok – really ok.  This might just be what they needed to open up.”

There is lots of information online about loneliness, if you want to find out more, or are looking for support for yourself these links are a good starting point