By Sally Northeast
The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 (#MHAW22) is loneliness. When #teamunplugged discussed what we wanted to do for the week, we wondered if this theme would really work for us. But when you flip it on its head – when you think about the first of the five steps to wellbeing which are so important to us – it’s obvious. Connection is the antidote to loneliness.
I started to think about whether I feel – or have felt – lonely. I’d describe myself as happily single and, although being without a partner might prompt feelings of loneliness, that hasn’t been the case for a while. I have two fantastic daughters, a close family, plenty of good friends, ace colleagues and – of course – the amazingly supportive and connected community of unpluggers.
I’ve certainly felt lonely in the past. When I first went to France for my year abroad as part of my languages degree I felt desperately homesick and lonely. But before long I’d made some friends, got into a couple of social circles and was enjoying all that France had to offer. Connecting with others solved my problem.
When I first split up from the father of my kids I felt the crushing loneliness of the lone parent and raged at having to deal with everything alone. But I was lucky – I have a brilliant support network, people who picked me up and helped me get through the darker times. Connection came to my rescue again.
We hear a lot about loneliness in older people – those who have lost a life partner maybe and who lack the confidence to find new connections without them. It can feel even lonelier when there are lots of people around too – seeing a crowd of people enjoying their own connections only magnifies the fact that you don’t have the same.
In the last two years the pandemic has isolated many people. We had to lock ourselves away, and though we found digital ways to connect that doesn’t quite do the trick, does it? Working for the NHS, we are taking a cautious approach to returning to offices (of course our amazing clinical staff have been in throughout) so I continue to work mainly from home. I miss the connection with my teams and with colleagues across the wider organisation. When I do go into the office I sometimes feel surprised by how energised – and, afterwards, how tired – I feel from being around people again.
The warmer, sunnier spring weather never fails to make us feel hopeful and this year it seems to signal our emergence from the solitary, isolated and – potentially – lonely days of pandemic life.
So, to combine that all-important antidote of connection with the other four steps to wellbeing, we’re encouraging you to meet up with someone for a walk and talk this Mental Health Awareness Week – and we’re calling it #CUthere. Whether it’s a friend you haven’t seen for a while, a family member who needs a pick-me-up, a colleague you’ve missed while working from home – whoever it is, make a plan to meet up and enjoy the beauties of spring.
- Connect – chat through how it’s been, whether you’ve felt lonely and how you’ve dealt with that, how happy you are to be seeing people regularly again.
- Be active – walk (or run if you and your buddy are up for that), breathe deep and get that heart pumping.
- Keep learning – share some of the things you’ve learned and encourage your walk buddy to do the same. What new things do you want to learn now?
- Take notice – everything’s so lush and green at the moment. Feeling connected with the world around you and remembering it’s always there for you is important too.
- Give – share your time, your thoughts and your feelings with your walking buddy. One of the most precious things you can give is your time – and if that’s not a cure for your own and someone else’s loneliness, I don’t know what is.
If you get together with someone for a walk this week do take a pic and share on social media tagging in @CommsUnplugged and using the hashtags #MHAW22 and #CUthere.
My CU co-creator Georgia and I will be out walking on Wednesday afternoon – we hope lots of you can also take some time out for your wellbeing, connect with someone else and keep loneliness at bay.
Sally is a co-creator of Comms Unplugged and Deputy Director of OD, Participation and Communications at Dorset HealthCare, a community and mental health care NHS Trust. Say hi on Twitter or see mainly her art and cakes on Insta.
— Sunday 8th May —