Mental Health Awareness Week 9 – 13 May 2022 – Loneliness: Reaching Out or Reaching In to/for Help

Mental Health Awareness Week

Every year as a nation we have a focus on Mental Health Awareness – this year’s theme is loneliness. There is a great deal of resource and help out there, some of it more accessible to individuals than others and one of the barriers to accessing help may be a sense of loneliness. Culture, social circumstance, ethnicity, age, gender etc., can all be influencing factors in mental health wellbeing and the sense of loneliness someone feels when they are struggling.

Often accessing support requires those who need help to ‘reach out’. Mental health struggles can feel isolating and lonely and alone, and maybe make it more difficult to ‘reach out’. If there was someone to ‘reach in’ the loneliness may subside?

‘The Giant Hand of Vyrnwy!’ was carved by Simon O’Rourke out of the stump of what was Wales tallest tree (originally 209 foot high), felled due to storm damage. The carving is an intervention – someone reaching in. The roots of the tree holding strong.

We all see art differently, but for me this illustrates the change that someone reaching in can make.

There’s lots of help and information available

Greater Manchester is the home to many fabulous charities and organisations. The NHS provide a list of organisations in Greater Manchester accessible via: NHS Greater Manchester

There are many other organisations out there too, as well as Psychotherapists like myself who work with clients experiencing life challenges. Which is obviously a good thing. We are all becoming much more aware of mental health wellbeing. There are many bloggers, pod casts, Apps, Instagram and YouTube posts and videos created by celebrities, experts, and ordinary folk like you and me uploading information, talking to others, or offering a service.

Good advice surrounds us on posters, at the end of dramas, documentaries and news bulletins containing traumatic articles when they share helpline numbers and websites for those who may be affected by a particular topic.

More employers offer benefits including EAP service provision too, with Mental Heal 1st Aiders, and Wellbeing and Mental Health Policies in place.

If you need support, there are places to reach out. Those same resources help inform those who could ‘reach in’ and help someone move out of their lonely place.

Reaching Out

Despite having awareness of all the possible help available, what if the person struggling believes they must sort out their worries and concerns themselves? What if they believe they are stuck, and no one can help or they should be able to deal with what is going on? What then?

When we do need help with our Mental Health, we can, despite all the information and resources out there, find ourselves in a lonely place. That lonely place can feel isolating even if we know there are resources available, places to go, people to talk to. That loneliness might cause you or I, if we are struggling to step back, retreat into ourselves, want to hide.

Reaching out means the person in need picking up the phone to speak to someone, starting the conversation, asking for help, saying I am vulnerable, can come with questions and doubts, and that may be too difficult to overcome.

· What will people think of me?

· Why can I not cope – other seem to?

· Who would want to listen to my concerns?

· My problems are not as bad as other peoples?

· I ought to be able to sort this out myself – shouldn’t I?

· I am alone in this.

· I feel shame that I cannot cope, that I find myself stuck.

· I should be able to do this!

If someone was ‘reaching in’, these questions may disappear because our friend, colleague, family member no longer feels as alone. They know someone cares.

Reaching In

If you notice a friend, family member, neighbour, or colleague is behaving differently or disappeared from their ordinary social interactions maybe more distracted than usual, reach out to them. If you have a niggle that something is not OK, you can ask. If you feel your colleague has changed behaviours, looks distracted, is quieter or louder than usual, reach in – check in, let them know you care.

Give them a call, send a message – even if they may not respond. Taking a few minutes to have one of those ‘water cooler’ conversations in the workplace might make all the difference. Ask: ‘How are you doing’ or ‘What is happening for you these days – I haven’t had a chance to catch up properly?’ This opens the opportunity of conversation. (Rather than ‘What’s up with you?’, ‘Are you OK?’ – these kinds of questions seek binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers- with the likely response being: ‘nothing’s up’, ‘yes I’m OK’).

The Workplace and Wellbeing

Workplaces these days do offer more and more wellbeing benefits and support packages. However, according to the CIPD 2022 Health and Wellbeing at Work report, the survey indicates 60% of line mangers believe this is important. What about the other 40%? If the workplace does not value wellbeing, and a colleague is struggling, how will they be supported there, and how will this impact on life outside of the workplace and vice-versa? Genuine investment in health and wellbeing in the workplace will help business at the end of the day.

Mental and physical wellbeing impacts every aspect of life, whatever the route cause. We need employers and managers to respond accordingly.

Sit down, listen, and talk

As a society in general, it would be much kinder to take time sit down with each other, talk, and more importantly, listen. We all struggle at different times, and very often we keep it to ourselves. The internal narrative tells us others are worse off than me, I should be able to manage.

If a colleague is stuck in their lonely place, and someone cares enough and ‘reaches in’ what a difference this could make!

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