Since one in four of us feels lonely now and then, the key theme for this year’s mental health awareness week was loneliness. Human beings are not designed to live solitary lives; our very nature longs for the company of others, and even the most introverted of us crave companionship from time to time. Contrary to popular belief, a person doesn’t have to be ‘alone’ to feel lonely. Likewise, somebody who is surrounded by others may feel terribly lonely. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand that loneliness is an invisible condition and, if not addressed, can contribute to poor mental health.
Many psychologists believe that loneliness is detrimental to physical health as well. Psychologist Holt-Lunstad considers loneliness to be as bad for your health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Since we’re currently reaccustoming to life in a time, where everyone has endured two years of intermittent lockdowns, and in a climate where many people are connected online but disengaged in real life; it’s safe to suggest that loneliness is more of a threat to our mental health now than ever before.
Many mental health disorders can stem from feelings of loneliness, and such disorders can exacerbate loneliness further, thus giving way to a vicious cycle. All mental health illnesses, whether depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD or addiction, thrive off isolation. These disorders feed off a person’s disconnection from others, causing them to become prisoners of their negative thoughts. Since these conditions aren’t always noticeable, those suffering can feel neglected. In other words, the more cut-off a person feels, the more susceptible they are to mental health problems. We, as a society, need to break this harmful cycle by first acknowledging loneliness, so we can face it head-on.
Make the invisible visible
It’s important to burst the notion that loneliness is something obvious. Loneliness can affect all of us- regardless of our backgrounds, social calendars and online presence. One such example is Scarlett Moffatt – a young and successful tv personality who openly talks about her feelings of loneliness. Scarlett became famous for showcasing her vibrant and chatty personality on Gogglebox and then being the “jungle queen” in I’m a Celebrity. Anyone would assume she is surrounded by friends and couldn’t encounter loneliness. However, at the peak of her fame, Scarlett felt so lonely that she called The Samaritans for advice, admitting she felt guilty because her star status and extroverted persona made her feel undeserving of help. She then said that expressing her feelings helped to steer her through her loneliness:
“talking to someone who didn’t know me, or judge me, really helped when I wanted to talk about how I was feeling.“
Thus, it’s important to understand that loneliness affects us all, and even your most outgoing friend or successful family member can be quietly enduring loneliness.
We need to share our experiences
The Mental Health Foundation is looking at ways of tackling loneliness, and one key campaign is to get people talking about it. Many people all over the country have taken to social media to use the hashtag #ivebeenthere to share their experiences with loneliness. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also took part in the campaign. They interrupted over five hundred UK radio stations at once to deliver a recorded message about the impact of loneliness. The royal couple urged people to call friends and family, meet up for tea or even send a message to somebody who may be feeling alone;
“because these small acts of kindness can make a big difference and help us all feel less lonely”.
How UKAT is helping
UKAT’s policy centres on the importance of connection. We fundamentally believe that sobriety is built on connection and recognise the role that loneliness plays in exacerbating addiction and other mental health issues. We’re proud to have raised over seven hundred pounds for the Mental Health Organisation, and of all our staff, from head office through to our in-house therapists, who wore green for the day to raise awareness of loneliness. If you visit any of our CQC-approved treatment centres, you will find posters adorning our walls to remind people to talk to each other about their loneliness and to check in with others. AT UKAT, we firmly believe that connecting with others and knowing you aren’t suffering alone is the remedy to addiction, so our staff actively engages in daily conversations with clients about tackling loneliness. We also know that loneliness is one of the biggest causes of addiction relapse, so we emphasise how to tackle loneliness post-recovery too.
UKAT’s advice for tackling loneliness
Our supportive team at UKAT openly discusses what methods we employ to deal with loneliness. If you or someone you know is feeling lonely, perhaps trying some of the following ideas can help:
Use social media in a positive way
While social media can make us feel more connected behind a screen than in real life, there are benefits to social media connections. Be mindful of which accounts you engage with, and ask yourself: is this account healthy for me? Try following accounts and people who beneficially inspire you. There are many accounts dedicated to mental health support that can be useful? Finally, if you have online friendships, make sure you balance your time with meeting up in person.
Reconnect with colleagues and old family and friends
A lot of time may have passed since you last saw your old colleague or friend. You may see their Facebook posts and assume they’ve long forgotten about your connection. But often, this isn’t the case; many people feel lonely, especially in adulthood, and we know social media only shows the highlights of our lives, so this person may love to hear from you, which may lead to meeting up in person. And if not, at least you have let someone know you’re thinking of them, which is a lovely feeling that many of us don’t fully acknowledge until it happens.
Spend time with pets
If you’re an animal lover, try spending some time with your beloved pets or volunteering at a shelter. Scientific studies have shown that those who spend time with animals are less likely to suffer from depression. Many mammals, such as dogs, are highly attuned to human emotions; this can create a warm bond between you. The fact that animals are dependent on humans to be fed, loved, and cared for can make us feel needed, and our reward is pure, unconditional love.
See a therapist
As with all mental health issues, acute feelings of loneliness may stem from an underlying cause. If this is the case for you, it may be best to reach out to a professional. Together you can delve into the root cause and seek the help you need to heal.
Know you aren’t alone
Finally, UKAT wants you to know that wherever you are and whatever you’re going through, know you aren’t alone. If you or someone you know is experiencing loneliness which may be driving them to engage in addictive behaviours, then know you can reach out to us at any time. Our support staff is here to help you. For most of us, loneliness is temporary, and although it’s unpleasant, it can teach us more about ourselves. Experiencing loneliness can teach us to be more mindful about how we interact with others; this creates a more compassionate and thoughtful environment – an environment where loneliness can’t dwell.