Isolation. It’s a word that we hear so often at Dorset Mind when people speak to us about their mental health.
And it’s been a huge problem in all our lives these last few months, enforced upon us by the strict government restrictions regarding moving freely outside. One of the hardest challenges we’ve faced in lockdown is the lack of human contact and social situations. For people living alone or without family close by or in rural areas of the country it’s been incredibly tough.
Although we recognise that feeling lonely isn’t a mental health problem, it is a contributory factor usually triggered by life events or by certain times of the year. People who live with a long-term chronic illness, poor socio-economic circumstances or belong to minority groups are generally more vulnerable to loneliness. Older people and younger generations are also susceptible – our senior friends’ social circles get smaller as their friends and family pass, and young people can struggle to interact in real life, preferring to communicate via their phones and online platforms.
But in lockdown, we’ve all experienced feelings of loneliness. This uncertain situation has ironically brought us together through our isolation. Imagine for just one moment if this was your ‘normal’ and you couldn’t get out due to social anxiety or extreme OCD. Would you cope? What would the lasting impact be on our communities if we spent an even longer exposure to being alone?
As human beings, we crave social interaction and long periods of being alone and feeling lonely can impact our mental health in a negative way. It also works the other way round – for some people, their mental health conditions can leave them with crippling loneliness and feeling isolated. According to Mind, loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, increased stress and a lack of sleep.
So what can we do about it?
There are actions you can take for yourself, and some options that you might need a trusted friend or family member to help you access.
Returning to society is important for our sense of worth, but remember to take it slowly. If you’ve been alone for a long time, it can feel over-whelming to meet people again or open up to people for the first time. Don’t expect to jump straight in and feel immediately comfortable – but why not join a class or group that are based on your hobbies or interests, these will have an element of familiarity to them.
We’re always looking for volunteers to work alongside us. It’s a great way for you to meet people in a safe and welcoming environment – and we provide you with regular support from our team and the chance to help other people like you.
One of our volunteers at our allotment project (The GAP Project) in Dorchester said recently “I love volunteering at The GAP Project. I’m meeting new people, enjoying my time out in the fresh air, and learning a lot about how to grow plants!”
Taking that first step to reach out to someone can be daunting, but the benefits you’ll gain from starting your recovery journey will far outweigh the trepidation you might feel in doing so.
If you need help to regain your confidence and return to society, we can help you. At Dorset Mind, we offer an accredited Befriending service. Usually this takes the format of 1-2-1 meetings with one of our trained volunteers. For example, you might arrange to meet for a coffee or go for a walk, but obviously we’ve had to adapt this service given the current restrictions. We’ve moved the majority of our support online or have re-designed them to be delivered by phone. It’s been very important to provide continuity in our support – and befriending currently takes the format of a weekly phone call to check on your wellbeing.
The impact of this service can be seen very clearly in some recent feedback we received from one of our service users, “I could not have hoped for a better befriender. He helped me tremendously in getting out to see places. I feel he has exceeded my expectations of what I expected a befriender could do.”
During lockdown, demand for our befriending service has rocketed – it’s up over 80%. We believe that many people have been adversely affected by factors such as loneliness and isolation alongside anxiety and stress.
How to access befriending
If you’d like find out more about Dorset Mind’s befriending service, please head to their website at: https://dorsetmind.uk/help-and-support/befriending/
Please note, service details were entered at the time of writing this article, June 2020. Always check our online groups and services online before travelling – and please stay away if you have COVID symptoms or have been advised to self-isolate.