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Felicity Brown on: What Can Loneliness Look Like

  • Monday, May 9, 2022
  • Posted By The Growth Company

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, with the theme of this year’s campaign focusing on loneliness. The pandemic led to a surge in people feeling lonely, as we were forced to stay at home, stop social interactions and swap the buzz of the office for home working.

Figures from the Mental Health Foundation, which runs Mental Health Awareness Week, show that one in four adults in the UK (24%) experienced feelings of loneliness nine months into lockdown. Although life is now very much back to normal, unfortunately, the same can’t be said for loneliness rates across the country.

Further research from the Red Cross makes for worrying reading. Their study showed that pre-pandemic, one in five people (20%) reported always or often feeling lonely. Now, that figure has risen to 41%, indicating that adults in the UK are feeling lonelier than ever. In fact, a third of adults say they can go a week without having a meaningful conversation with another person. This is a truly sad and shocking statistic which highlights the importance of reaching out to others.

The mental and physical impact of loneliness

Understandably, loneliness and mental ill-health go hand-in-hand. Feeling socially isolated very often leads to anxiety and depression, with chronic loneliness also being associated with a person having suicidal ideation and attempting to take their own life. Not only that but being lonely can also lead a person to develop unhealthy habits that could be detrimental to their physical and mental health, such as substance dependency.

However, it’s not just mental health that loneliness impacts – it also takes its toll on a person’s physical health. There are so many health risks associated with loneliness that the Campaign to End Loneliness is urging for it to be treated as a genuine public health concern. They found that being lonely can increase a person’s risk of heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, dementia and cognitive decline. Did you know that being lonely actually increases someone’s risk of mortality by 26%?

What does loneliness look like?

When you picture someone who’s lonely, you might imagine an elderly person who lives on their own with no family, for example. What you’re probably less likely to picture is a young person, with a successful job, who seemingly has lots of friends and an active social life that’s well-documented on social media. But that’s the thing with loneliness – it can take many different guises.

Very often, people get lonely when they feel like the people around them don’t have the same shared experiences as them, or when they are going through something which they feel like their peers can’t relate to. For example, it could be a single mum who struggles to juggle work with childcare responsibilities or an individual who wants to transition to a different gender.

In addition to the two examples given above, Mind, the mental health charity, has identified just some of the groups who can be more prone to feeling lonely. These include:

·       Carers

·       Minority ethnic groups (particularly those who live in areas where there are few other people from the same background)

·       People with complex physical and mental health needs

·       People on a low income or living in poverty

·       Individuals who have experienced some form of discrimination due to their gender, race, age or sexual orientation

·       Victims of physical and sexual abuse

Significant life events can also instil feelings of loneliness, such as ending a relationship, changing jobs, moving to a new area or losing a loved one.

It’s important to remember that loneliness doesn’t necessarily mean being alone, and people can feel and experience loneliness in many different ways. There are even people who are quite happy living with little social contact with others but may feel lonely due to different reasons.

How GC fosters an inclusive culture

Here at the Growth Company, we work hard to create an inclusive workplace culture for our staff. We have a wide range of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) groups which colleagues can join to meet like-minded people, share their experiences, seek support and influence positive change. These include LGBTQ+, Parents and Carers, a Women’s Network, EmbRACE (for staff from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds), Religion and Faith Network, Age and a Neurodiversity Support Group.

Our EDI groups also help to educate colleagues about some of the issues and challenges certain individuals face, so we can all work together to support them and help them to overcome any barriers they may be facing. This is a vital step in helping to stamp out loneliness, as colleagues learn the best ways of supporting their peers.

Our ‘Work Your Way’ agile working policy also gives GC employees the freedom to manage when, where and how they work based on their diaries. This includes giving staff the choice to come into the office and interact with colleagues face-to-face (something which we are actively encouraging following the ending of COVID-19 restrictions) or working from home based on their preferences. As part of Work Your Way, colleagues can choose when their working day starts and ends, so they can manage work around their social life, caring responsibilities and hobbies.

GC is also proud to have Mental Health First Aiders within the business, whose role is to support colleagues who are struggling for whatever reason. They are specially trained to advise staff based on the specific challenge they are facing. Bottling up a problem can be an isolating experience in itself, so our Mental Health First Aiders are playing a key part in encouraging open and honest conversations and ensuring all staff know that there is someone there to listen and help them. Our mental health support is bolstered by an Employee Assistance Programme, which colleagues can use 24/7 to access help and be signposted to relevant external services. All managers within the business also undertake Wellbeing Awareness Training and are encouraged to regularly check in with their teams.

Steps We Can Take to End Loneliness

Together, we can all do our bit to reduce loneliness and improve our social interactions. Whether it is messaging a friend you have not heard from in a while, checking in on a colleague who prefers to work from home, spending time quality time with distant family, calling in on an elderly neighbour or volunteering with a charity that supports some of the more vulnerable groups I highlighted earlier, we can all make a difference. Given everything we’ve all been through over the past couple of years, it has never been more important to stay connected and let someone know that you are there for them.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, I’d encourage you to reach out to someone who you think might be feeling lonely. A simple ‘how are you feeling?’ can be enough to encourage them to open up – and starting the conversation is a powerful first step.

If you would like to learn more about joining GC and being part of our inclusive, supportive and diverse workforce, visit our website here.