What is Loneliness Awareness Week?
Loneliness Awareness Week is all about creating supportive communities by having conversations with family, friends, or colleagues about loneliness. Loneliness is a natural human emotion – we are hardwired to need social connections. By talking about it, we can support ourselves and others (Marmalade Trust 2023).
There is stigma surrounding loneliness and who is likely to be lonely. Older people can be particularly vulnerable to isolation and loneliness, but it is important to remember that loneliness can affect people of all ages. Marmalade Trust aim to change the viewpoint of loneliness by getting people talking about ‘the times they have personally felt and experienced loneliness, how we can accept it, understand it, and how to take action to manage the feeling (and our social connections) in the future’ (Marmalade Trust 2023).
Loneliness is a very personal experience and can look and feel different for everyone. The ways in which one person feels lonely might be completely different to someone else.
It can sometimes be impossible to know if a person feels lonely from the outside, but loneliness can make people feel extremely low and isolated on the inside. Marmalade Trust found that more than 9 million people in the UK say they often or always feel lonely.
When you feel like you don’t have anyone around to support you, this is when loneliness can take control and affect your mental health. Research shows that loneliness is linked to the risk of certain mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, poor phobias, poor self-esteem, and sleep issues (Marmalade Trust 2023).
Being alone can feel positive when you are in control of it. Mind UK state that some people ‘describe loneliness as the feeling we have when our need for social contact and relationships isn’t met. But loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. You may feel content without much contact with other people. Others may find this a lonely experience.’
Chronic loneliness is also something people might experience. Chronic loneliness is when feeling lonely goes on for a long period of time.
While feeling lonely is not a mental health problem, having a mental health problem can lead to feeling lonely.
Causes and Signs of Loneliness
Certain experiences and events in our lives can make us feel lonely. For example:
- Going through a relationship break-up
- Changing jobs
- Experiencing a bereavement
- Starting at university
- Experiencing mental health problems
- Becoming a parent
- Moving to a new area or country without family, friends, or community networks
If someone is experiencing loneliness there may be particular signs and symptoms such as:
Sleep – When people feel lonely, they tend to experience a change in their sleeping patterns, feeling more or less tired than usual.
Spending money – People who are feeling lonely may spend money on ‘unnecessary’ things to fill the void.
Eating habits – Over-eating or under-eating are closely linked to depression. Some people would console themselves by eating too much, while others would lose their appetite and find other ways to make themselves feel better.
Communication – Inconsistency in communication patterns such as phoning and messaging more or less frequently.
Physical health – Aside from sleep deprivation, loneliness can also lead to poor heart health and weakened immune system.
Loneliness at Work
Loneliness in the workplace is on the rise. Last year three in five people (60%) reported feeling lonely at work (Marmalade Trust 2023).
Loneliness and isolation at work was once thought of as the exclusive domain of those who visibly worked by themselves: the self-employed, contractors and other types of freelancers or solo workers. But rising levels of loneliness have shown that you can still feel lonely when you work with other people (Marmalade Trust 2023).
One important step is reducing the stigma around loneliness. Research by Mind UK showed the main barriers stopping people from talking about loneliness were embarrassment, lack of trust in colleagues, and fear it will have a negative career impact. A Total Jobs survey of 2,000 employees showed that only 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men would tell someone at work they were feeling lonely. Most would tell friends or family while 10% would tell their line manager and just 4% would tell their HR department. 34% would tell no one at all (Marmalade Trust 2023).
We think it is extremely important to create a safe space in a work environment for employees to feel supported in their mental health. At Active Care Group, employees have access to mental health support through our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and our Mental Health First Aiders.
Health Assured’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) can help colleagues cope with the pressure that everyday life brings, and prevent personal problems impacting your work performance, health and wellbeing. The EAP offer colleagues a wide range of support, including online resources, counselling, and referral services if you are struggling.
Our Mental Health First Aider’s are there for our colleagues who require some form of mental health support, in the same respect as a physical First Aider is there to support someone who requires physical first aid. As well as in a crisis, Mental Health First Aiders are valuable in providing early intervention help for someone who may be developing a mental health issue. Mental Health First Aiders are not trained to be therapists or psychiatrists, but they can offer initial support through non-judgemental listening and guidance.
Tips to manage Loneliness
Marmalade Trust have outlined 3 steps to feeling less lonely:
Acknowledge it and don’t feel embarrassed.
Loneliness is a very normal human emotion. As human beings, we are biologically wired for social contact. Most of us will experience loneliness at some point in our lives, regardless of age, circumstance, and background.
Think about how you describe loneliness.
Telling someone that you’re lonely is an important step but it’s also how we talk about it. We still use words like ‘admitting’ to and ‘suffering’ from, which can unintentionally add to the belief that something is wrong with us. There is absolutely no shame in feeling lonely and changing the language around loneliness is a positive and liberating step forward.
Reach out and tell someone.
Look at your life and try to identify the areas where you do have support or someone to talk to. Can you talk to a family member or a friend? Or is there someone at work or in your community you can reach out to? When we’ve been lonely for a long time it can start to affect our mental health and wellbeing. If you feel that is the case, make an appointment to see your GP to make sure that you are getting the right support.
Know what you need.
We’re all different and we all need varying levels of social contact. Some of us like to have face-to-face interaction several times a day. For others, it’s a regular phone call, or being part of an online group or forum. What does your mood feel like if you go a few days without seeing or speaking to anyone?
Some people will find a busy social life too overwhelming, so it’s about finding the level of contact that you feel comfortable with. Work out what you need and then look at how you can fill those gaps in your life with the right amount of connections. It’s also important to distinguish the difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Many people are happy with their company for much of the time and find it to be a positive experience.
Build up your daily community.
We live in a world where a lot of the time, we don’t really connect with people for work, shopping or leisure activities. Or we might live away from friends and family and feel like we don’t have a local network or community.
Think of the ways you can build connections back into your daily life. For example, shopping locally in the same places or choosing a staff-manned checkout at the supermarket rather than always using self-service, or walking regularly in your local park or outside space. Even the smallest things like seeing the same faces on a regular basis, or saying hello to your neighbours will help you feel more anchored to a community.
Whether you live in a bustling city or a rural village, most places have opportunities to meet new people. Could you start a course, or do some sort of physical exercise, or take up a new hobby as a way to meet like-minded people who have similar interests?
For further information on the 3 steps see here https://www.lonelinessawarenessweek.org/three-steps