Loneliness and mental health have always been intertwined issues and this will continue to be the case in the future. Whilst loneliness is not a mental health condition in and of itself, it can (and does) often lead to mental health problems. These can include various types of social phobia, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress. (‘About Loneliness’- Mind website) Equally, mental health problems of varying types and levels can often lead to significant experiences of loneliness and so the two issues can exacerbate each other.
In July 2020, the Campaign to End Loneliness published a report called ‘The Psychology of Loneliness’ and this explored the relationship between mental health and loneliness and made a number of recommendations as to how individuals and agencies could address this growing problem. These included:
- Increasing understanding about the effects of loneliness
- Groups addressing loneliness exploring ways to incorporate the effects on mental health and psychology
- Offering more one to one opportunities for those with complex needs
Impact of Covid-19
These issues were already being discussed prior to Covid-19 in terms of an ‘epidemic’ and since March 2021 there is evidence that the numbers of people experiencing mental health problems and loneliness has increased and has affected people of all ages, backgrounds and geographical area regardless of levels of affluence or deprivation. The ONS found that ‘up to a million more people became chronically lonely as lockdown continued – increasing the total to 3.7 million adults by the beginning of 2021. (‘Loneliness beyond Covid-19’ – Campaign to End Loneliness, July 2021) Similarly, churches (who we often work with) also expressed similar concerns and in a report published in May 2021 by Church Urban Fund, over 90% of [church leaders] said that loneliness/isolation and mental health were affecting people “a little more” or “much more” than before the pandemic.’ (Church in Action: A Survey of Churches’ Community Responses to the Pandemic’ – Church Urban Fund & Church of England, April 2021)
However, there were many inequalities in the impact of lockdown on specific groups. A report by Campaign to End Loneliness found that ‘people who were already lonely were likely to get lonelier, as were those at greater risk of loneliness because of factors such as health, income, ethnicity and sexuality. Those with strong social connections were likely to feel less lonely as they spent more time with family and in their local community’. The same report expressed concerns about those facing barriers to reconnection coming out of lockdown – such as mental or physical health.
How can we all respond to loneliness & mental health?
Despite lockdown measures now largely removed, bereavement and other side effects are still being felt by many people and are unlikely to be resolved for many months or years. We have become aware of an increase in those showing signs of Agoraphobia, anxiety and hesitancy to leave the home and we expect this to continue for some time.
Many organisations and community groups across the UK have been addressing issues around mental health and loneliness either implicitly or explicitly for many decades. In recent years, however, there have been a number of initiatives set up at a community level which specifically aim to address this, including support groups, counselling services, community activities and events, befriending/ mentoring services.
As a charity, we are now focusing on the need to provide a wide variety of resources that can be used to address loneliness and mental health in local communities. In some instances, this will be by creating a befriending scheme (using our Two’s Company Befriending model) and in others, suggesting ways that all of us can informally support those around us by becoming more aware of these issues in our communities.
As we navigate this next period of time, many groups require support to adjust and respond effectively to address the needs local communities. This needs to be done with sensitivity and awareness of local circumstances and priorities.
If you would like to know more about ways in which you can respond in your local area, please contact us at email@example.com or 0300 302 0225
You can support our work financially in addressing loneliness, social isolation and mental health and ALL DONATIONS UP TO £250 ARE MATCHED POUND FOR POUND LEADING TO DOUBLE THE VAUE AND DOUBLE THE IMPACT.