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Why does it matter if you are suffering from loneliness?
Mental health awareness has changed dramatically in the last few years and in that time we have seen a real shift in society’s attitudes.
We are becoming much more accepting of mental health conditions and more supportive of those living with challenging issues.
We are more aware of common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety and more willing to talk to health professionals for advice and treatment.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in mental health issues with a considerable number attributed to loneliness.
That is why the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week – May 9 to May 15 – is loneliness. Loneliness is not about the number of friends we have, the time we spend on our own or something that happens when we reach a certain age. Loneliness is the feeling we experience when there is a mismatch between the social connections we have and those that we need or want.
Loneliness has a different meaning for all of us. During the pandemic and the various lockdowns, research has pointed to a three fold increase in the number of people reporting loneliness.
But why does it matter? Loneliness is a significant public health issue and remains one of the key indicators of poor mental health.
Being connected to other people in a way that helps us feel valued is fundamental to protecting our mental health. Long-term feelings of loneliness are indicators of increased rates of mortality and poor physical health outcomes.
Unfortunately, loneliness is not experienced in the same way across all communities.
People on lower incomes, those living with long-term conditions and existing mental health issues are more likely to experience loneliness.
During the pandemic, many older adults became more isolated due to movement restrictions and their lack of digital connectivity.
There are many ways we can help others who might be isolated. Check in on people who live alone; a message or a call can make a world of difference to someone who lives alone.
If you know a person who experiences difficulty when using the internet perhaps you could spend some time explaining the platforms or apps available to them, such as Zoom or Messenger or some other connectivity app.
If you are the person experiencing loneliness, please call a family member, friend or a health professional. Why not join a local group – from art to walking or cycling, outdoor swimming and gardening, there are a lot on offer. Think about what your interests are and find out if there is a group or class in your area that covers those interests, whether it is physical, cultural or just for a blether over a cuppa.
Please don’t suffer in silence. There is help out there and combatting loneliness exists as one of our core values at Healthy Options. If you are struggling visit our website for further advice. www.lornhealthyoptions.co.uk.
Ian Milarvie, exercise professional, Healthy Options.
Photograph: Ian Milarvie, exercise professional at Healthy Options. NO_HealthyOptions_IanMilarvie