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Loneliness Awareness Week 2021: Supporting yourself and others

At Shout around 17% of texters mention in their conversations with us that they are feeling lonely.

Whatever you are going through, you don't have to face it alone. Below are some tips on things you can do to help yourself or others who are struggling with loneliness.

How can we support ourselves when we feel lonely or isolated?

Unlike depression or anxiety, loneliness and isolation are not diagnosable mental illnesses, but, left unattended, can contribute to poor mental and physical health.

Changes to look out for, in yourself and others, include:

  • struggling to get out of bed in the morning; difficulty leaving home
  • low or fluctuating moods
  • racing thoughts that you have difficulty controlling
  • feeling constantly sad, worried or fearful
  • a struggle with, or avoidance of social connections
  • withdrawal from relationships, work or activities that you used to enjoy
  • thoughts that might indicate suicide ideation, such as, ‘My life isn’t worth living any more’, or ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’

Reaching out for support from others, for example, a friend, a colleague, a family member, a counsellor at an educational institute, or a professional, is a first step towards sharing your thoughts and feelings when feeling lonely and isolated. Making a connection and having a conversation is a courageous and important step. Once you connect and share your thoughts and feelings, even with a volunteer, it frequently releases some of the tension and anxiety you might be experiencing.

Texters to the Shout service have described these two steps (connecting and having a conversation) as…

“The conversation helped with my loneliness, it felt like a breath of fresh air having someone listening.”

“Thank you for your time and replies. My world doesn’t feel as lonely as it did before I spoke to you.”

Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Take breaks. Relax and play. Eat well. Hydrate. Exercise. Reach out to someone you feel comfortable talking to. Ask your employer if they provide an EAP service, or speak to your GP for more information.

Also...text Shout on 85258 and have a conversation with a trained volunteer.

How can we support others who we suspect might be struggling with loneliness and isolation?

It’s not always obvious when someone is struggling, or indeed what you can do to best support them if they are lonely or isolated. Look out for changes in people’s behaviour, for example, someone becoming withdrawn, not wanting to engage socially, etc. While other people’s mental health is not your responsibility, don’t underestimate the power of a conversation with a compassionate listener - and if you’re concerned about someone else, that listener could be you.

  • Sometimes just reaching out for a chat, or to catch up over coffee can make an immediate positive difference.
  • listen carefully and without interrupting or talking about yourself
  • ask open, compassionate questions
  • reflect what you’re hearing so that the person knows that you are listening and understanding
  • if necessary, encourage them to reach out for professional help.
  • don’t overwhelm yourself but don’t underestimate the power of a connection and a conversation

A person can feel lonely and isolated even when surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. Check in and let people know that you care.

...and remember, loneliness is something we will all probably experience in our lifetimes. It’s part of being human. In fact, spending time alone is also good for your wellbeing. Developing the ability to feel comfortable in your own company has the potential to increase self-awareness and resilience.

But ultimately, it’s about keeping a balance between enjoying time alone and being socially and emotionally connected.