Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 – exploring the impact of loneliness on mental health
As Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on the issue of loneliness, we examine how it can impact your mental health and some steps you can take to help manage loneliness.
Monday 9 May to Sunday 15 May 2022 marks Mental Health Awareness Week.
The Mental Health Foundation has set the theme, organised and hosted Mental Health Awareness Week for the last 22 years. During this time, the event has grown to become one of the biggest awareness weeks across the UK and globally.
The week provides an opportunity for individuals, businesses, and organisations such as ICAS, to talk about the wider issues related to mental health and wellbeing and to focus on ways in which people who are affected can seek help and advice.
Loneliness – the theme for 2022
For 2022, Mental Health Awareness Week also has a focus on a particular aspect of mental health – exploring the experience of loneliness, its effect on wellbeing and how individuals can play a part in reducing loneliness in their communities.
Like many wellbeing-related issues, the causes and effects of loneliness were exacerbated and brought to wider attention during the pandemic and its related periods of enforced social isolation. However, these issues were also prevalent before the pandemic and will continue to be so as we recover from COVID-19.
Here we look at what it means to be lonely, how it can affect your mental health and suggest some simple steps to help you cope during periods of loneliness.
What is loneliness?
Everyone has experience of feeling lonely and everyone’s experience of loneliness varies, and it’s important to note that there’s a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. For one person, being alone may provide calm and solace, yet for another it may be a source of unhappiness and stress.
The charity Mind describes loneliness as, “the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met.”
The effect of loneliness on mental health
Whilst it’s not a mental-health condition in itself, longer spells of loneliness can negatively impact your mental health, possibly leading to an increased risk of problems such as depression, anxiety and stress.
It’s also the case that having a mental-health problem can in turn lead to loneliness. For example, someone with anxiety may find it difficult to engage with social activities, which can lead to isolation and feelings of loneliness.
What causes loneliness?
Loneliness can be caused by a range of life events, including:
- A mental-health condition such as depression or anxiety
- Retirement and the loss of contact with colleagues
- Moving to a new town or country
- Starting a new job
- A relationship break-up
- Home or remote working.
Problematic feelings of loneliness may also be caused by a certain set of circumstances that leave you feeling as if you are suffering alone, for example, when experiencing money problems or going through an extended period of illness.
Feelings of loneliness can also be stronger at certain times of the year, such as around Christmas when expectations for greater social contact are increased.
How to manage loneliness
There are a range of steps you can take to help manage feelings of loneliness, but remember, everyone’s experience of loneliness, the causes, and therefore the solutions, will be different.
Make new connections
Your firm may have social groups you can connect with, or you could join a class, club or a hobby group, either online or in-person, and make new connections by practicing an existing interest or learning something new. Becoming a mentor and volunteering can also be good ways to make new connections and to use your professional expertise to help others – which will have the added benefit of boosting your self-esteem.
There are many ways to make new connections online, such as through Meetup groups which help you to meet new people, make friends, find support and explore your interests, and through fitness apps such as Strava, which also have a social element to their functionality.
It’s worth bearing in mind that social media can also have its negative aspects and may exacerbate feelings of loneliness, giving a false impression that other people are living perfect lives and that you are the only one feeling alone.
In addition, there are a range of organisations that help people of all ages to make new connections, and here you'll find a list of charities that specialise in helping older people to combat feelings of loneliness.
Try talking about it
If you feel comfortable doing so, it may help to talk about how you feel, to friends, family, perhaps to your line manager or your firm’s mental-health first aider. You could also consult to a doctor or therapist or try a talking therapy.
If you are a CA Student who’s experiencing loneliness, you may feel comfortable speaking to your line manager or firm’s Training Principal, or you could make use of the ICAS Student Assistance Programme which includes 365-days-a-year access to BACP-accredited counsellors.
Look after yourself
Whilst loneliness may be impacting upon your physical and mental health, it’s important to look after yourself in other ways. Make sure you’re eating a healthy and balanced diet, that you’re sleeping properly and exercising regularly.
Many people report feeling more connected when they’re out in nature and joining a walking group, exercise session or fitness class can be a good way of adding new social interactions to your weekly schedule.
Coping with loneliness in retirement
Retirement can often be a cause of loneliness, especially for professionals who may have been in full-time employment since their late teens. If you're in this position, there are a range of things you could do to help cope with feelings of loneliness by increasing your social contacts.
You could become a mentor through Career Connections, the ICAS mentoring platform, and share your valuable expertise with a younger CA. You could get involved with ICAS, by joining a board or committee, by connecting with your local Area Network or attending an in-person event.
You could also put your years of accounting, business or management experience to good use by volunteering your services on a pro-bono basis to help a charity.
The Royal Voluntary Service provides a range of volunteering opportunities across the UK, including in local communities and the NHS. And Age UK offers two different friendship services designed to help combat loneliness in later life, including its Silver Line telephone friendship service and its localised face-to-face befriending service.
In addition, you can connect with any of the charities, listed below, which specialise in helping older people to cope with feelings of loneliness and to make new connections:
- Age UK
- Befriending Networks
- Cyrenians (Edinburgh)
- Glasgow’s Golden Generation
- Independent Age
- The Cares Family (London, Manchester and Liverpool)
- Vintage Vibes (Edinburgh)
Useful links and external resources
Information and advice:
- Mental Health Foundation - 15 things to do if you're feeling lonely
- Campaign to End Loneliness
- Headspace – How to deal with loneliness
- Young Minds – A guide for people with loneliness
- ICAS Student Assistance Programme
- NHS – Loneliness in older people
- Age UK – Feeling lonely
- British Red Cross - Get help with loneliness
Help to make new connections:
- Befriending Networks
- CALM - campaign against living miserably
- Campaign to End Loneliness
- The Cares Family - helping old and young people connect with their communities
- Mind - Local Mind services
Community volunteering opportunities
From assisting with telephone helplines to becoming a Digital Buddy, we look at some of the ways in which you can volunteer to help older people in your local community who may be experiencing the effects of loneliness.