Mental Health Awareness Week
9th - 15th May 2022
Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, kicks off this coming Monday and the theme for this year is ‘Loneliness’. Throughout the week, mental health charities are encouraging people to build meaningful connections with their friends, family and colleagues.
Over the last two years, the way in which we (and that’s “we” as in: “we, the human race”) have maintained relationships has changed. It had to. We had no choice but to shut ourselves away from our nearest and dearest, in a cumulative effort to ride the terrible wave that was the Coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, we didn’t have face-to-face catch-ups with friends, we didn’t go out and meet new people, we didn’t travel to see family, and some of our established relationships suffered or even buckled under the stress as a result.
MY SENSE OF PANDEMIC-INDUCED LONELINESS
On a personal level, I was pregnant with my second child during lockdown: I didn’t get to go to antenatal classes; I didn’t go shopping for cute little outfits, nobody overfamiliarly patted my bump and said “Are you sure it’s just one in there?!”; I wasn’t even allowed to bring my husband with me into my ultrasound scans.
In hospital, Mr Scrummie was allowed in for the (emergency C-section) birth itself and then to visit for an hour each day. My daughter, then 3 years old, over the moon to be a Big Sister, wasn’t allowed in to see me or her brother at all.
I asked to be discharged early, despite having a raging infection and recovering from anaphylaxis on the operating table, purely because I was so lonely; I couldn’t see my husband, or my daughter, and with a newborn son fresh out of the NICU I was shut in an isolated room to minimise the risk of either of us being exposed to the virus. I needed to be at home, where I could be with other people; where I could recover with support.
Once my son was here, I didn’t get to take him to play groups, I didn’t forge friendships with other second-time parent; I didn’t get to see my family back home in Wales, they didn’t get to meet my baby until so, so much later on.
LONELINESS: THE STATS
Covid took so much from me, and from so many other mums, parents and caregivers. So, it’s perhaps no surprise that, during the pandemic, volunteer-manned charity, The Samaritans reported a 22% rise in the amount of calls they received from people that were overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness. During the same period of time, the Office for National Statistics reported that, when surveyed, 1 in 14 people over the age of 16 would describe themselves as being lonely either “often” or “always" and, by February 2021, the amount of the population that felt that way had risen to a proportion equal to 3.7 million people.
MATERNAL MENTAL HEALTH
This past week, (Maternal Mental Health Week, 2nd-8th May) the Duchess of Cambridge was announced as Patron of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), an organisation which brings together under one umbrella, over 100 UK-wide organisations to help mums struggling with mental health issues.
Speaking about post-natal mental health, in a video released to mark her new position at the charity, the Duchess, herself a mother of three, said:
“The birth of a child is one of life’s greatest gifts. But it can also be one of the most challenging times for many families and one that should not be faced alone.
No one is immune to experiencing anxiety and depression during this time. It is crucial, therefore, that all those who might be struggling are given the right support at the right time, so that they’re able to share these feelings without fear of judgement and can access the information, care and support they need to recover...
It’s down to each and every one of us to support parents and carers, and all those who are raising children today.”
Find out more about the MMHA at www.maternalmentalhealthalliance.org
SCIENCE BACKING THE NEED FOR CHANGE
Loneliness not only has an effect on a person’s mental health, but their physical health too; with research from the Royal College of General Practitioners indicating that “social isolation and loneliness are akin to a chronic long-term condition in terms of the impact they have on [a patient’s] health and wellbeing”.
And so, the MMHA is calling on the Government to protect and improve services supporting perinatal mental health, to re-assess the true level of demand for mental health services in light of the pandemic and to commission research into the pandemic’s ongoing impact.
IF YOU ARE FEELING LONELY THIS MENTAL HEALTH WEEK
Here a few things you can do, right now, to alleviate the feelings of loneliness:
1. Try to work out why you feel lonely.
It sounds simple, but identifying why you feel lonely will help you find a solution. It’s easy to feel blinkered by the loneliness, try to see it as a situation that does have a remedy, you just need to hone in on it.
2. Put a positive spin on your loneliness
Although feeling lonely is incredibly hard, alone time; time to yourself, is also important; it can be a time for mindfulness, self-discovery and self-expression. The next time you feel a pang of loneliness, try ‘leaning in’ to it: spend some time doing something purely selfish: have a long bubble bath, pick up a paintbrush, go for a nature walk by yourself and really listen and see everything around you.
Yep, it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t have to be a DMC (deep, meaningful conversation) but just starting up a conversation with someone, anyone, will help. Say “Hello”, talk to the bus driver about the weather today, ask the person on the check-out if it’s been a busy day; request a book recommendation in your local library. Talking to other human beings helps, even if it’s absolute twaddle!
4. Find a distracting activity, or dedicate time to a hobby.
This doesn’t have to be anything life-changing, something as simple as baking, or going a few rounds with a basketball hoop can massively lift your mood.
5. Make the time and effort for that Facetime or Zoom.
It’s so easy to feel ‘too busy’, particularly when you’re a parent, and to make the effort to speak to your friends and family. Do it. Don’t just text them, you have amazingly technology at your fingertips; use it for more than scrolling Instagram!
6. Join a social club, a society or a team.
Again, I’m not saying you have sign yourself up for your local am-dram production of “The Greatest Showman”, or promising that you’re going to find your new best friend, but volunteering on the PTA, singing in a choir, joining the local cricket team/WI/cosplay club could be just what you need; who knows, there might be a whole room full of people just like you.
7. Reach out.
Reach out to your friends, your family, or a stranger on the end of phone. Talk it through. No pain lasts forever.
To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email email@example.com or visit some branches in person.
If you're experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day).
National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK
You can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652 (open 24/7).
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
You can call the CALM on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm–midnight every day) if you are struggling and need to talk. Or if you prefer not to speak on the phone, you could try the CALM webchat service.
If you're under 25, you can call The Mix on 0808 808 4994 (3pm–midnight every day), request support by email, or use their crisis text messenger service.
If you're under 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about a young person who might be struggling, you can call Papyrus HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm), email firstname.lastname@example.org or text 07786 209 697.
If you're a student, you can look on the Nightline website to see if your university or college offers a night-time listening service. Nightline phone operators are all students too.
If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 (10am–10pm every day), email email@example.com or use their webchat service. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+.