Updated: May 9
The second week of May is marked as Mental Health Awareness Week by organisations and schools across the world. The theme for 2022 is Loneliness.
Different people may hold very different perspectives and experiences of loneliness. But one thing I’m sure we can agree on is that loneliness is an awful concept. It’s really unpleasant and can have a profound impact on our mental health. We all want to try to reduce or eliminate loneliness wherever possible.
How can we define loneliness?
Descriptions of loneliness highlight it as a painful experience associated with unhappiness, despondence, and feeling unloved. It has also been defined as a discrepancy between actual and desired social contact.
We can break down the concept of loneliness into two different aspects: social and emotional.
Social loneliness can be thought of as the lack of a wider network of friends or acquaintances. On the other hand, emotional loneliness is the absence of someone with whom we can form a close and meaningful relationship. The two may overlap, but depending on the individual, it’s possible to experience one or both of these aspects of loneliness.
How can loneliness affect people?
Loneliness is associated with a host of unpleasant consequences including worse academic achievement, poor sleep quality, and emotional health difficulties. These difficulties starting in childhood can continue to manifest into adulthood.
The backdrop of a recent pandemic and restrictions on socialising has placed all of us at greater risk of loneliness. The last few years constitute a significant period of disrupted time, not just limited to the periods of full lockdown. Most people have had fewer opportunities to develop and maintain healthy friendships.
Knowing the potential consequences for the next generations, we must do all that we can to take preventative or remedial steps to address loneliness.
What can we do?
On our own, we can’t rescue or protect everyone from the experience of loneliness. However, we can take small steps as individuals and collectives to remain aware, to consider those most at risk, and to offer opportunities to reduce the chances of experiencing chronic loneliness.
Encourage others to feel able to say, without judgement, that they feel lonely.
Let them know it's ok to feel lonely sometimes.
Don’t try to convince them that they shouldn’t feel lonely. Everyone’s experience of loneliness is different. Simply acknowledge how painful this must be for them.
Ensure that your students and children know you’re available to talk.
Try to help educate them around meaningful connections and how to find and sustain healthy relationships with peers, teachers and family. (More on this subject to come from the youHQ team soon!)
This blog was written by Dr Bear, a clinical psychologist and Wellbeing Director for youHQ and Life on Time. He has worked in the NHS and private sector for 15 years in a variety of roles across the country.
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