Monday, 09 May 2022
This year Mental Health Awareness Week is shining a light on the impact of loneliness on mental health and wellbeing.
To mark the occasion we caught up with Sarah McDonald, Wellbeing Lead at Merton Uplift, which provides Talking Therapies and a range of first-line support services to people struggling with their mental health.
Q: Is loneliness a growing issue, Sarah? What impact do you think the pandemic had?
A survey by the London Assembly (undertaken before the pandemic) revealed that 1 in 12 of us Londoners experience severe loneliness. After two years of shielding, social distancing, the loss of loved ones and the closure of community facilities, many more people are feeling disconnected and isolated.
There are also concerns that the negative mental health effects last much longer than the physical health impacts. We know that, unfortunately, for many people struggling with poor mental health; stigma, isolation and loneliness are nothing new. However, the pandemic has compounded these distressing experiences.
Q: What impacts can loneliness have on someone’s mental health and wellbeing?
There is strong evidence base that being socially connected and experiencing positive relationships can make us happier and can improve our sense of wellbeing by providing us with feelings of security and support, and giving meaning to our lives.
Conversely loneliness can have had a significant and detrimental effect on mental health and wellbeing. The ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’ tells us that loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and that loneliness is a risk factor for depression in later life.
For many people living with poor mental health, loneliness and distress can become a vicious circle. e.g. anxiety and low mood may prevent you from joining activities and groups previously enjoyed, leading to isolation and friendship groups shrinking.
Q: What services are available to support people experiencing loneliness in South West London?
As understanding of the impact of loneliness grows, so have the resources to tackle it. In all the boroughs that the Trust works within, there are a range of services that offer safe, welcoming spaces to meet others, enjoy a hobby or feel included and connected with others.
In Merton there are opportunities to meet new people and enjoy gardening or crafts within a supportive group at Sustainable Merton or you could connect with others on their own recovery journey at Focus 4 -1.
Wandsworth’s Age UK also runs a befriending project or at the Wandsworth Community Empowerment Network you could volunteer and use the opportunity to meet like minded people working for positive change in the Borough.
In Richmond, the wellbeing centre managed by MIND has a wide range of activities and social support to tap into. Fulham football club run a weekly welcoming session in Kingston for anyone looking to improve their wellbeing through exercise.
All boroughs also have dedicated ‘Social prescribing services’, a free service accessed via GP surgeries. This can be a great option if you are unsure what you’d like to do as a friendly link worker will support you through the process of identifying interests and offer encouragement and reassurance when starting something new.
Finally, the Trust’s own Recovery College is a brilliant resource to meet others with similar experiences, where strong connections and friendships can develop.
Q: What would your advice be to someone experiencing loneliness?
You are not on your own. Loneliness is commonly experienced by many others, and is nothing to feel embarrassed about.
It can feel frightening joining a new group, or talk to unfamiliar people, so be kind to yourself, go at a pace that suits you and feels comfortable, and congratulate yourself for trying something new.
Q: Do you have a message for people as we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week?
Mental Health awareness week is a great opportunity to deepen the conversation about mental health with a wide audience.
I am looking forward to promoting my service, Merton Uplift with a huge number of people in the borough this week.
I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity to keep promoting positive messages about mental health – and the value of our work with everyone and anyone they can!
Find our more information about Merton Uplift at: https://www.mertonuplift.nhs.uk/