Mental Health Awareness Week 2022
Between October 2020 to February 2021, 7.2% of adults reported often or always feeling lonely1 with the government and Office for National Statistics currently mapping how COVID has affected how lonely people are.
This trend of increasing loneliness may be what led the Mental Health Foundation to declare it the theme of this year’s mental health awareness week.
This article will set out what mental health awareness week is all about, and why, if you’re feeling lonely, you might not be that alone after all.
What is Mental Health Awareness week?
Mental Health Awareness week was created in 20012 and is celebrated worldwide, with a different theme each year around mental health.
This year, Mental Health Awareness week will take place between the 9th and 15th May on the theme of loneliness.
The aim of the week is to encourage conversations around loneliness, as well as steps we can take as individuals to help improve our mental health.
Am I lonely?
Loneliness is described as when we perceive ourselves to be isolated, compared to what we perceive we should be. You may feel lonely even if surrounded by people. It is all about our perception.
How many people are lonely?
“Loneliness is increasingly recognised as the next critical public health issue” – Lim et al 20204
A survey of UK adults during the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions found that 24% reported experiencing loneliness7.
It’s important to note this is self-reported, and whether loneliness is reported is a concern for researchers. It might be hard to know how many people are lonely if they are socially isolated or don’t have access to such surveys.
According to the Office for National Statistics3 you may be more likely to experience loneliness if you are in poor health, single or widowed, between the ages of 16 and 24 and renting rather than owning your home.
However, loneliness can affect anyone, independent of your age, sex, education level and ethnicity6 – it is a condition that can affect any of us at any point.
Loneliness can be triggered by many ‘normal’ life events such as moving house, starting a new job, illness, becoming a parent – it may even occur as more than one of these happen at one time such as starting a new job while moving house4.
These events may even seem to be positive to the person experiencing them, but they require a period of adjustment socially and so can cause loneliness. If you are feeling lonely despite moving for a promotion, or after becoming a parent, know that this may be more common than you think.
How does loneliness impact physical and mental wellbeing?
We should always be careful saying one thing causes another, as our physical and mental health are affected by so many things.
Research has found associations between loneliness and disruption of sleep, cognitive ability, depression, anxiety and even non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s4,5.
We recently wrote an article on human connectedness and eating disorders, in which we shared studies finding that better social connectedness was associated with reduced eating disorder symptoms.
Recovery is also influenced by how much support someone feels they have within their family and friend groups, alongside their health professional.
Loneliness can be both a product and cause of poor mental and physical health, creating a cycle that can be hard to get out of. But fear not, there is hope!
What can I do if I am lonely?
Firstly, remember even if you feel lonely, you’re not alone – most of us experience loneliness at some point or another in our life. It can feel hard to take steps to combat loneliness, so read on for our top tips for loneliness:
- Find a friend or family member that you feel you can trust and talk to about how you are feeling. A problem shared is a problem halved!
- Strengthen friendships that you currently have. Remember, it is our responsibility to nurture our relationships. Make time to connect with old friends or schedule a walk or coffee date. There’s nothing better than reminiscing on past experiences and sharing a funny story with a friend you have known forever.
- Look into peer support groups that allow you to share your experience and connect with other like-minded folks.
- Join a class or group in your local area such as a book club, sports club, rock climbing centre, tennis club, the list goes on! Find a hobby you love and nurture that part of you. Other people will love that hobby too and you may even make new friends through shared experiences.
- Spend time in nature to boost your mood – this was the theme of last year’s mental health awareness week and has been shown that people who are more connected to nature are usually happier in life. Why not connect this with tip with tip number four and find a hobby outside such as gardening, cycling or rollerblading. Your inner child will be bursting at the seams!
- Detox from social media if you find yourself comparing to others frequently. Social media can be used a wonderful tool for connection and meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise, however excessive social media use can exacerbate negative body image and feelings of inadequacy and loneliness.
- Make time for self-reflection, journaling, and mindfulness in your life. Is there a local yoga studio or church can join in your area?
- If loneliness is significantly impacting your quality of life in a negative way, consider seeking professional support from a health care professional or helpline.
How can I access support?
There are a range of health professionals and forums available to you online. If you are struggling with loneliness, secret eating, and body shame, we are here to help!
Join us in THRIVE – the missing puzzle piece of food and body freedom – A practical and supportive step-by-step framework to heal your relationship with food in 12-weeks, without the fear, guilt or overwhelm. In THRIVE we deliver weekly live support groups to help you nurture a healthy relationship with food and connect with other courageous people who will support you along the way. Because you can never have too many cheerleaders in your life!
Kacie Shoulders, ANutr
Team EHL x
- Office for National Statistics – Loneliness during the Coronavirus Pandemic https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/mappinglonelinessduringthecoronaviruspandemic/2021-04-07
- The Mental Health Foundation https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week
- Office for National Statistics – Loneliness https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/lonelinesswhatcharacteristicsandcircumstancesareassociatedwithfeelinglonely/2018-04-10
- Lim et al 2020 – Understanding loneliness in the twenty-first century: an update on correlates, risk factors, and potential solutions https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00127-020-01889-7
- 5)Fried et al 2020 – A unified approach to loneliness https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)32533-4/fulltext
- Cacioppo and Cacioppo 2018 – The growing problem of loneliness
- The Mental Health Foundation – Loneliness during the Coronavirus Pandemic