Mental Health Awareness Week – 9th to 15th May 2022

This year, the Mental Health Foundation has chosen loneliness as the theme of mental health awareness week.

“Millions of us experience loneliness from time to time. We know that some people are at higher risk of experiencing loneliness and the evidence shows the longer we feel lonely, the more we are at risk of mental health problems.”

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation

Not only does feeling lonely place our mental health at risk but experiencing poor mental health can lead to loneliness.

What is loneliness?

We often think about loneliness as being linked to being alone or isolated, however this doesn’t automatically lead to the feeling of loneliness, in fact often we may choose to be in solitude for our wellbeing. The feeling of loneliness is more complex and relates to lack of social connection.

A key element to the survival of the human race was our ability to act together as a social species. Loneliness developed as a warning sign that we may be socially disconnected and therefore our survival at risk. Just as the sense of thirst lets us know we should hydrate; loneliness is designed to encourage us to seek connection. As we are wired for connection there can even be negative effects on our physical health from prolonged loneliness, such as a weakened immune system.

We all feel lonely sometimes, but when it starts to become a regular or overwhelming feeling it may be time to take action or seek support.

Signs of loneliness

Loneliness looks different for everyone, and it might not always be easy to spot but signs can include:

    • Not having many close friends or avoiding people
    • Finding it difficult to make deep connections to others
    • Feeling isolated even when around people
    • Having low self-esteem or feeling you don’t have anything interesting to say to people
    • A tendency to focus spare time on buying ‘things’ rather than on activities
    • Regularly binge-watching TV boxsets
    • Using mechanisms such as food, alcohol or drugs to avoid feeling isolated
    • Spending lots of time scrolling on social media without interacting with anyone

What leads to loneliness?

Loneliness can build up over time and we may not always notice our social connections have started to dwindle. The pandemic had a big impact on us feeling lonely and isolated. A 2021 Mind survey found that in the South West, 52% of adults and 53% of young people were worried about seeing and being near people. Whilst restrictions have lifted, it is inevitable that two years of social distancing has played a large part in some of us finding it hard to be around people.

Loneliness can also be triggered by a change in circumstances, such as the loss of a relationship or friendship, a bereavement, changing jobs or moving to a new area.

What can we do to feel less lonely?

 There are lots of things we can do to improve feelings of loneliness, below are some suggestions. If you have been feeling lonely for a while, take small steps to begin with so as not to overwhelm yourself.

    • Reconnect with friends and family and work on improving the feeling of connection between you. If you worry that you don’t have enough in common to connect with your friends, try to focus on your similarities rather than your differences.
    • Think about what opportunities you might have to meet new people.
    • Often just being open with a friend about how you’re doing can help you feel connected. Focus on quality of friendships and remember it can take time to build the trust so be patient.
    • Find small ways to connect to people on a day-to-day basis, even if it is just taking time to say hello to a cashier in the shop or smile and make eye contact with people (if it feels safe to do so). Being present when you are out can help you notice those small opportunities for connection.
    • Take up new hobbies or re-establish old ones. Find out if there are community interest groups near you so you can meet people with similar hobbies.
    • If you have time, look for volunteering opportunities in your community. There are many wellbeing benefits associated with volunteering, including increasing your confidence, giving you a sense of purpose, and learning new skills.
    • Get outside and connect to nature or spend time with animals can also lead to feelings of connection.

What can we do at work to manage loneliness?

 The pandemic has changed the workplace for many of us, so it is important we take time to understand which elements of connection we might be missing and act to remedy this where possible. This might include:

    • When hybrid working, make the days you are in the office focused on meeting and connecting with colleagues and save the detailed solo work for when you are at home. If you are used to working remotely, spending time catching up with colleagues may feel unproductive by comparison, so remember that team connection is important too and put it on the to-do list.
    • Keep in mind that everyone connects differently, the extroverts among us may enjoy larger team gatherings to help feel energised and connected, whereas those of us who are more introverted may gain connection from smaller groups or one-to-one conversations.
    • If you are a remote worker, consider if there is a colleague who you can buddy up with and check in with each other regularly, or even just having a video call open whilst you both work separately can help feel like there’s someone with you.
    • Find out if your workplace has a mentoring scheme and sign up to either be a mentor to others, or a mentee.
    • Reconnect with the values of your team or wider organisation. Feeling part of a shared purpose can help us feel more connected to others.
    • Consider talking to your manager if you are feeling distanced from your team, they may be able to help you find a way of working that suits you better.

What can we do as managers in the workplace?

 It can be a challenge to keep up with how your team are doing when the workplace is changing. This week might be a good opportunity to consider if anyone might need your time or support. Some suggested ways to take care of you team are:

    • Check in with each team member at your next 1-2-1 and ask if they are experiencing feelings of loneliness. If so, help them think about ways to address this.
    • Do you know the preferences for your team members in terms of how they best connect to people, such as whether they are introverted or extroverted? Try to provide a mix of different opportunities ranging from small groups to large groups and think about what space is available in the workplace to facilitate this.
    • Make sure the values and purpose of the team or organisation are clearly communicated, and let people know how they as an individual contribute to that.
    • Encourage people to take time for their wellbeing during the workday and let them know what options are open to them within your organisation. Remind them of any confidential support available too, such as via your EAP provider.
    • Encourage your team to complete a personal Wellbeing Action Plan and review it at your 1-2-1’s. The wellbeing plan can help us identify what keeps us well at work and what causes us to become unwell. Find the guide and template on Mind’s website.
    • Take a look at the ‘tea break check-ins’ detailed below and consider having this posted in the break area as a reminder.

Mental health is for life not just for awareness week!

Awareness days have proven successful over recent years in helping encourage people to talk about their mental health and seek support, but we need to look after our mental health all year round too.

Perhaps you can use this week to take stock of how you are doing with your mental health and where you can make sustainable changes in your life to take care of yourself on an ongoing basis?

When making changes to our lifestyle it’s best to start small and then build it up when it feels like a habit. Even just doing something for a couple of minutes a day is better than not at all, and when you are doing it consistently, you can build it up to 5 minutes, 10 minutes etc. It can also be most effective to anchor the change to something you already do.

Here’s one small change you can make today that can make a difference:

Tea Break Check-ins

Every time you are making a drink, waiting for the kettle to boil or queuing in the coffee shop, spend a couple of minutes to check in with yourself. Start with taking a few deep breaths and then ask yourself:

    1. How am I feeling?
    2. Do I feel connected to others?
    3. What one small thing can I do for myself today to support my wellbeing?

Why not download our prompt poster today and print it for your kitchen at home or your break area at work?



How Wiltshire Mind can help

Our support is available for anyone based in the Wiltshire area.

    • Peer Support Groups – Attending one of our weekly support groups can provide a safe space for you to talk about how you’re feeling and connect with others who may have similar experiences. Click the link to find out when and where they are held.
    • Volunteer – as mentioned, there are many benefits to volunteering in your community, and we would love to hear from you if you have time to support us. Opportunities include helping our facilitators to run the weekly support groups or joining our fundraising team to help raise much needed funds for the charity. Take a look at our volunteering page here to find out more.
    • Counselling – our one-to-one counselling is available for adults and also young people aged 11+. This is available either in person or via Zoom. As a low-cost counselling provider, we do have a waiting list for this service but please get in contact if you would like to find out more. You can see more information about adult counselling here and young people’s counselling here.

Donate to help us deliver our services

Each month, we aim to deliver around 250 counselling sessions, and hold 28 support groups but to do so, we need to raise £465 per day. We rely on the generosity of people and businesses in our community to achieve this. If you would like to donate to help us be there for people facing loneliness and experiencing mental health problems visit our Just Giving page.

Other resources that may be useful

Mind’s Side by Side community provides an online platform where you can connect to others who understand what you are going through. It is available to everyone 24/7.

The Befriending network directory can help you find organisations near you who provide a befriending service.

Meetup is a website and app to find local events and meetings for a variety of interest groups.

Supporting your mental health over the Christmas period

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for many of us. This might trigger problems with our mental health, or worsen existing difficulties. Coupled with the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, it is important to take care of ourselves and our loved ones over this festive period.

Supporting others

If you are worried about the mental health of people in your life, it can be really helpful to just start an open conversation with them.

Christmas can mean different things to different people and their experience may change each year. For many of us, Christmas can trigger feelings such as loneliness, stress or worry about money, and often someone may experience seemingly opposing emotions at the same time. It is important not to make assumptions about how someone is feeling, but rather ask them how they’re feeling about Christmas this year and give them space to share their feelings and listen without judgment, and let them know it’s common to find things hard at this time of year.

If someone is struggling, try to avoid ‘cheering them up’. People feel most supported when they feel heard and that their feelings have been understood rather than needing someone to try and  change them. Phrases like “Christmas is supposed to be a happy time”, “Other people have it worse”, “Cheer up, it’ll be fine” can feel dismissive and minimise their feelings. Sometimes we use these phrases because we are feeling uncomfortable, but if you can instead sit with that and just be alongside that person in whatever they are feeling, this an can be really helpful.

We may find that when we first ask how someone is, they just say they’re ‘fine’. It can be really helpful to ask them for a second time how they are. We often treat ‘how are you?’ as a general greeting, but asking a second time ‘how are you really doing?’ shows you genuinely do want to know. If they still aren’t keen to share how they are, respect that decision and just let them know you are happy to listen if they do want to talk at any time. If you find some things at Christmas hard, it can be useful to share that with them to help normalise this and let them know they aren’t alone in their feelings.

If you notice that someone is feeling a lot of stress at this time of year, you may want to try and help them. In this case, it is important to understand what each person might need rather than making too many assumptions. Try having an open conversation about what elements of Christmas they are feeling stressed about, and what might be helpful for them. This might include setting spending limits on presents, offering to help with childcare, understanding that people who have problems with eating might need support around mealtimes and so on.

Coping with COVID anxiety

Many of us are feeling lots of different emotions about the pandemic and we may be having different experiences from our loved ones. It is important to remember there is no ‘right’ way to respond to a pandemic and all experiences are valid. Try to understand how others are thinking and feeling, and be respectful of that. For those you are spending time with over Christmas, it may be useful to check in with how they are feeling about COVID and what safety measures they may need to feel comfortable.

Remember to take care of yourself and notice what things in particular lead you to feel stressed or anxious about COVID. For example, it maybe useful to limit your time on social media or watching the news so that you aren’t overwhelmed. Try to focus on the things you can control rather than worrying about the things you can’t. If possible, try to find moments of joy and fun to help provide some respite from the difficult emotions you may also be feeling.

Taking care of our own mental health

Christmas can feel like a very busy time for many of us, but it is important to try and find time to take care of our wellbeing too.

We recommend using the ‘Five ways to Wellbeing’ as a prompt. This includes:

  • Connecting – spending time with people in a way that feels connecting and energising for you.
  • Be Active – take time to be active, even if just a short walk each day to get some fresh air. During the winter, it is especially important to get outside in the daylight.
  • Take Notice – try to be mindful and focus on the current moment rather than worrying about the past or future. Even just a few minutes of focusing on your breathing can help.
  • Learn – spend some time learning something new, even just listening to a short podcast can help keep your mind active.
  • Give – helping others can help give you a sense of purpose. This might include support a friend, volunteering in your community or just being kind to others when you are doing your Christmas shopping.

Remember to treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding as you treat others. Be patient with yourself and others, and know that this time of year can be challenging for many of us, especially during a pandemic. Be mindful of what you need and try to communicate this to the people around you, including setting any relevant boundaries such as topics you don’t want to talk about or events you don’t wish to attend. Consider talking to a friend or loved one about how you are feeling.

For information about what to do in a mental health crisis, or for details of other organisations who provide immediate support, please visit our Information and Support page.

Whilst you’re here

Wiltshire Mind is an independent charity and we receive most of our funding from the community. We know the country is in a mental health crisis, and we urgently need to raise funds so that we can continue to provide support to the people who need us. To make a donation, not matter how small, please visit: https://www.justgiving.com/wiltshire-mind.

5 ways to get outside, and into nature this summer

Izzy Fry, age 15

@izzyfryphotography 

Being out in nature and greenspaces is scientifically proven to be beneficial for both our physical and mental health.

Being out in the ‘wild’ or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear and stress and increases happy feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to you physical wellbeing, reducing heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones.

So why don’t you get outside and connect with nature – it will be good for your physical and mental health! Here are my top 5 ideas to get you outside in nature this summer!

MAKE A SOLITARY BEE HOUSE – I absolutely love making these bee hotels and all you need is a slice of wood and a drill! Drill multiple holes into the slice of wood (but be careful you don’t go the whole way through!) Solitary bees will use these holes to lay their eggs in – you will know when one has made it it’s home as it cover up the front!

STARGAZING – sleeping out under the stars is a great experience! Grab a blanket, find a cosy spot to lie down in and look up! The longer you gaze the more stars you’ll discover – you can use the app star walk to find the names of the stars your sleeping underneath!

WILD SWIMMING – wild swimming is such a fun way to connect with nature and be outside! Find a little river or lake (make sure you have permission) and go for a paddle or swim! There are so many benefits of the cold water – it boosts brain power, relives stress and its very meditative!

PLANT A WILDFLOWER MEADOW – wildflowers benefit lots of wildlife from bees and butterflies to mammals and birds; and they are also fun to make for us! Choose a suitable area in your garden – it needs to be somewhere open and sunny. Choose your wildflower seeds, some good mixes can include poppies, cowslips and ox-eye daisies (you can harvest the seeds yourself or buy a mix online!) Dig or rake the soil and sprinkle the seeds, water every few days and watch the flowers grow!

PHOTOGRAPHY – get outside with a camera or even a phone and photograph nature. From bees on flowers and birds on feeders to the tops of trees and landscapes. Photography is a great way to capture the beauty of nature and wildlife.