Mental Health Awareness Week – promoting good mental health 

Written by Ruth McGuire - 12th May 2022

If there is one important lesson that has emerged from the pandemic, it is not only the importance of mental health but the confidence to talk about it. As a result of the social isolation people experienced due to ‘lockdowns’, its impact on the mental health of both children and adults became and remains a regular topic of conversation. More than that, the importance of mental health is now much more recognised by society in general as well as by employers, schools and other education establishments. Disclosures by celebrities and even royalty about their mental health challenges has also made it more ‘acceptable’ for people of all ages to discuss their mental health. 


According to statistics, around 1 in 4 people experience some form of mental illness every year. This means that it is very likely that we or someone we know, will live with a mental health problem at some point during the year. This is why events like Mental Health Awareness week create opportunities for discussions about different aspects of mental health. The theme for this year’s special week which takes place between May 9th and 15th is loneliness.


When loneliness becomes a mental health issue


It is important to recognise the difference between being alone and feeling lonely. At various points in life or even in our daily lives, we might actually choose to be alone. This might be because we just want some ‘downtime’ on our own, want to read a book, meditate or engage in some other activity that can only be done alone. In fact, having some time alone and away from other people might even be good for our mental health, as it gives us time to focus on self-care. Loneliness, however, is not about choice but about feeling socially and emotionally isolated and perhaps disconnected from others. According to the mental health charity MIND, these are some of the life events that could lead to someone feeling lonely:


  • experiencing a bereavement
  • going through a relationship break-up
  • retiring and losing the social contact you had at work
  • changing jobs and feeling isolated from your co-workers
  • starting at university
  • moving to a new area or country without family, friends or community networks.


Events like Christmas or Eid, when families get together, could also induce feelings of loneliness in people who are for whatever reason separated from their families or friends. This separation could be the result of estrangement from families, physical separation due to living away from relatives or could be due to bereavements and loss of loved ones.


Persistent feelings of loneliness whilst not identified as a mental illness, can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. It can also impair cognitive abilities and the ability to make decisions. Drawing on research from a range of sources, the Campaign to end Loneliness has summarised both the mental and physical health implications of loneliness as follows:


  • Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 26% 
  • Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • Loneliness is worse for you than obesity
  • Loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke 
  • Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure 
  • Loneliness with severe depression is associated with early mortality and loneliness is a risk factor for depression in later life 
  • Loneliness and social isolation put individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia 


https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/the-facts-on-loneliness/ accessed 07.05.22


Positive behaviours to help reduce barriers to loneliness


The main activity being promoted during Mental Health Awareness week as a way of tackling loneliness, is to connect with others. Admittedly, it can at times require effort to pick up the phone and make a contact with a relative or friend. However, these days, there are many more ways than in previous decades, to connect with people. This includes making phone calls, sending text messages, writing emails or using social media tools such as Facebook or Instagram. There is also the old fashioned method of writing letters to people. 


Another option for connecting with people is by joining ‘interest’ groups or clubs. This could include local choirs, walking groups, gardening clubs, exercise classes, cookery clubs and so on – all of which offer the opportunity to connect with other people whilst at the same time having fun. Volunteering to help others is another productive way of resolving feelings of loneliness. It offers both the opportunity to connect with others as well as the satisfaction gained from helping others.


Employees who have switched to home working may also be at risk of another type of loneliness that is the consequence of no longer sharing the same physical space as colleagues. The remedy to this type of loneliness is for managers, supervisors or employees to take the initiative to connect outside of scheduled formal meetings. This could be by arranging time to share virtual coffee breaks/chats with other colleagues or by arranging ‘in person’ meet ups with colleagues outside of work.


Conclusion


Mental Health Awareness week is certainly a time for reflection and action. However good mental health is more than just a week of activity – it is about engaging in all year round positive behaviours and activities that promote our own mental health and that of others. Connecting with other people is one of the most important things we can do to stay mentally healthy.


Further reading and resources


Mental health awareness week

https://mentalhealth-uk.org/get-involved/mental-health-awareness-days/mental-health-awareness-week/


Twitter @mentalhealth

#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek


Campaign to end loneliness

https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/


Mind charity

www.mind.org.uk


Mental health support charity for young people

https://www.youngminds.org.uk/

 

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Ruth McGuire has extensive experience in education as a lecturer/tutor and in the development of accredited courses within the further education sector. She is now involved in the inspection of education/social work courses. In addition, she has various roles as a patient advocate/representative within the NHS and is also an experienced writer/researcher.

 

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