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Mental Health Awareness Week 2022: Loneliness, Its Impacts, and Steps to Address It

Mental Health Awareness Week is a national annual event that encourages the whole of the UK to focus on achieving good (or improved) mental health. Hosted by The Mental Health Foundation, there is always a theme for the week; and this time, it’s loneliness.

As we’re sure you know, loneliness is affecting increasingly more people in the United Kingdom and had an impact on physical and mental health during the pandemic. Connection to people and community is essential to protecting our mental health, so everybody needs to find better ways to tackling this epidemic.

Therefore, between 9 and 15 May, Mental Health Awareness Week will be raising awareness of the impacts of loneliness and providing practical steps you can take to combat its affects. After all, reducing loneliness is a leap towards a society filled with healthy, content minds.

Let’s get ahead of the game so you’re armed with all the knowledge necessary to kickstart this Mental Health Awareness week.

What Causes Loneliness?

A single yellow daisy with lush green leaves growing through the cracks in an otherwise dry, brown dirt.

Everybody feels lonely occasionally. It’s such a personal feeling, so your experience will be different to ours and vice versa.

With that said, there is a generally accepted definition of loneliness which is as follows:

“The feeling we experience when our need for fulfilling social contact and relationships isn’t met.”

It’s worth pointing out that loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. You can choose to live alone and be completely happy without much social interaction. Others may find this a terribly lonely experience.

Alternatively, you might have plenty of social contact or be in a relationship or family circle and still feel lonely. Typically, this stems from the fact you don’t feel cared for or understood by those around you.

But let’s look at some other causes of loneliness:

· You are experiencing a bereavement.

· You’re going through a relationship break up.

· You’re retiring and potentially losing the social interactions you had at work.

· You’re moving to a new location without friends, family, or community contacts.

· You’re starting college, university, or changing schools.

· It’s a certain time of the year (like Christmas).

As per various research papers and studies, you might be more vulnerable to loneliness if you live in certain circumstances or belong to specific groups, such as:

· You’re a single parent or carer and may find it difficult to maintain your social life.

· You have no family or friends.

· You’re estranged for your family.

· You’re excluded from social activities due to monetary restrictions or mobility issues.

· You belong to a minority group and live somewhere without others in a similar situation.

· You experience discrimination or stigma because of:

o A disability

o A long-term health problem, including mental health

o Your gender

o Your race

o Your sexual orientation

· You’ve experienced physical or sexual abuse and may find it more challenging to form close relationships with others.

How Does Loneliness Impact Our Mental Health?

Loneliness as a whole isn’t a mental health problem. However, some people experience deep and constant feelings of loneliness that don’t disappear, regardless of their environment or friends. There are many reasons for this; again, it depends on the person.

Experiencing prolonged or consistent loneliness brings an increased risk of certain mental health issues, like depression, antisocial behaviour, suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem, sleep problems, anxiety, and heightened stress. Memory, learning, brain function, and decision-making abilities can also suffer under the weight of loneliness, especially if it continues for a long time.

On top of that, loneliness in older adults can promote Alzheimer’s disease progression, increase the risk of strokes, and even affect cardiovascular health.

How to Prevent and Overcome Loneliness

Thankfully, you can take some steps to help prevent and/or overcome loneliness this Mental Health Awareness Week and beyond. But since everybody is different, some of these tips may not work for you. Regardless, let’s take a look at some potentially useful ideas:

· Find like-minded people — Of course, this is easier said than done. However, joining hobby groups or doing community service can present fantastic opportunities to meet new people and potentially find people similar to you.

· Learn to recognise that loneliness is a sign that something has to change — Things won’t change overnight. But as you recognise the feelings of loneliness, you can start taking steps to relieve these feelings and build meaningful connections that support your wellbeing.

· Try a new hobby — Getting creative is a fantastic way to combat loneliness. Whether it’s painting or woodturning or pottery or something in between, you won’t know the positive impacts of creativity until you try it!

· Strengthen your current relationships — Improving your existing relationships is a fantastic way to combat loneliness. Consider calling a friend or relative you haven’t spoken to in a while or meet up with somebody for a coffee.

· Talk to someone — Chatting about your feelings with somebody you trust is crucial. Whether it’s a doctor, relative, friend, or a therapist, opening up about loneliness can make all the difference.

Get Involved in Mental Health Awareness Week 2022!

The Mental Health Foundation presents a range of ways to get involved this Mental Health Awareness Week. From wearing a green ribbon to taking part in the 80 Miles in May challenge, just go to their website to find out more (we’ve linked it above).

Whatever you do, get ready to spread awareness this Mental Health Awareness week!

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