With loneliness the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Dr Ariele Noble explores the link between loneliness and mental health and gives some top tips for making more meaningful connections in our everyday lives. She also explains how the conversations between texters and Shout Volunteers can be vital for tackling loneliness and boosting wellbeing - both for the texter and the volunteer.
Loneliness and mental health
Over the past two years, being cut off unexpectedly and often for prolonged periods of time from our friends, families and communities left many of us feeling alone and isolated. During the pandemic our Shout Volunteers took around 150,000 conversations with children, young people and adults struggling to cope with loneliness.
Loneliness is often what underlies other difficulties and is a significant cause of anxiety and depression. Indeed, many of those who text Shout for support with loneliness are also struggling with depression (49%), anxiety (33%) and suicide (33%).
Loneliness happens when we feel no one is there for us and when we don’t feel cared for - not necessarily because of physical absence but because of a sense that we are not sharing meaningful thoughts and feelings with others. We can be surrounded by people and still lack meaningful contact.
A meaningful connection is a two-way street where both people get something positive and useful from the relationship. It requires engagement, empathy and consistency.
Meaningful connections can provide an antidote to loneliness and can also be a vital component for maintaining good mental wellbeing. That’s why our Shout Volunteer training is largely based on making meaningful connections with people in distress.
For many texters, Shout is their first point of meaningful contact. 42% of texters say that they felt they had no one else to talk to before reaching out to Shout. Feedback confirms that people who use Shout most appreciate being listened to and feeling understood. Having the opportunity to talk is vital and, by doing so, we encourage social connectedness, which increases our resilience.
I felt like I was speaking to a friend and they made me feel like I wasn't alone.
Our volunteers also benefit from these meaningful connections. They’ve told us that helping others improves their own wellbeing (70%), gives them a sense of accomplishment and purpose (95%), and provides them with skills they can take into their wider lives (85%).
You can tell that you’ve helped people, it is purposeful and instantly rewarding.
Tips for making more meaningful connections in our everyday lives
- Use technology wisely: Technology can be a key tool to help us to connect with others. It can offer us ways to be listened to, to be understood and to meet our need to be cared for and connected with others.
- Meet people in person: In lockdown, lack of physical meet-ups led to many people feeling lonely and isolated. Now we can take new opportunities to engage meaningfully with people in person.
- Re-connect: Think about whether there’s someone you’ve had a good connection with in the past who you could reach out to and maybe meet up with.
- Commit to a new group activity: Join a group or sports club to spend time with others who enjoy or care about the same things you do.
- Say hello: A simple ‘hello’ to the people you see most often on a daily basis, whether it be your friends, family, the postman or the barista in your local coffee shop, can give you and others a boost.
- Volunteer: There’s plenty of evidence that volunteering is great for our sense of meaning and purpose, and improves wellbeing. Find out more about becoming a Shout Volunteer.
How to help others who are feeling lonely
We tend to think that some people are just naturally more helpful than others. But in reality, we all have our natural helping style. This is the way we instinctively collaborate with someone to help them achieve an outcome. Maybe you’re someone who knows exactly what to say to console a friend. Or maybe you’re great at coming up with a creative solution. There are lots of ways that we help others all the time, sometimes without even realising it!
💬 Giving advice on how to navigate the problem
📖 Sharing information
🖐️ Confronting someone about a behaviour or attitude
❓ Asking questions to help the person figure out the solution for themselves
🔎 Exploring how they feel about a situation
💭 Trying to understand what they’re going through
We tend to gravitate to certain styles of helping over others. This can be influenced by our personality or our background. That’s not to say that we’re bad at another style or that any one style is wrong. All of these types of helping can be useful depending on the context, like the type of relationship you have with the other person.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, try to make more meaningful connections in your everyday life to help improve your own mental wellbeing and that of others.
Could you do this by becoming a Shout Volunteer? Find out more. Together we can tackle loneliness.