We cover mental health a lot in the Parenta magazine, since it is something that has a profound effect on how we live our lives. Good mental health is needed to maintain health, hold down a job, make ends meet, and ultimately, give us a reason for living. Poor mental health can have the totally opposite effect, making us question our sanity, our self-worth and in some severe cases, whether our life is worth living at all.
In recent years, mental health has moved from a taboo subject to a mainstream one, and more and more people are opening up about their own struggles with mental health, to help themselves, and ultimately to try to help others in a similar position. All manner of people, from sports stars, celebrities and royalty have been willing over the last few years to share their mental health stories to help start conversations around the subject and find solutions which work.
Mental Health Awareness Week runs each year as an annual event aimed at getting the whole of the UK to focus on achieving good mental health. It was started by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) 21 years ago and is now one of the largest awareness weeks across the UK and internationally too. This year it runs from 9 – 15 May and the theme looks at a topic which is still not often on many people’s agendas and yet it is a growing problem in the UK and around the world: loneliness.
Ah, look at all the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
Ah, look at all the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
“Eleanor Rigby” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Written in 1966.
According to the official website:
“Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic. Our connection to other people and our community is fundamental to protecting our mental health and we need to find better ways of tackling the epidemic of loneliness.”
The coronavirus pandemic pushed us all into isolation in one way or another. People found themselves unable to meet up with friends and families for months on end; single people, whether young or old found it difficult to exist without the help and support of others; and even those people isolating in houses with members of their own family, discovered that you can still feel lonely even if you are surrounded by other people.
So this Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation is asking everyone to raise awareness of loneliness and find ways to tackle it in ourselves and in our communities. As they say: “Reducing loneliness is a major step towards a mentally healthy society.”
As usual, there are plenty of ways to get involved in your setting, but perhaps the first thing to do is ask yourself what, if anything, you know about loneliness? For many of us, it is something we don’t even like to consider, let alone admit to feeling.
Loneliness is when we feel that we do not connect with others or have any meaningful relationships in our life. It can affect people of all ages, although older people may be more vulnerable to loneliness because they are more likely to live alone. Statistics show that over 2 million people aged over 75 in England, live alone, and half a million older people can go 5 or 6 days a week without speaking to anyone at all.
According to the website marmaladetrust.org, whose aim is to raise awareness of loneliness and identify and help those at risk, there are several different types of loneliness, including:
- Emotional loneliness – when someone you were very close to, such as a partner or close friend, is no longer there
- Social loneliness – lacking a wider social network of friends, neighbours or colleagues
- Transient loneliness – loneliness that comes and goes
- Situational loneliness – feeling lonely due to a situation such as a Christmas, holidays or birthdays
- Chronic loneliness – feeling lonely all or most of the time
We can all feel lonely at times and even if you don’t feel lonely yourself, you may know people who are, or who may have retreated from socialising over the last couple of years to the detriment of their mental health. There may even be people working in your setting who feel lonely, despite coming to work everyday and working with lots of children. So now is the time to reach out to others and address the problem.
The MHF have produced a free downloadable resource pack for schools which looks at loneliness, how loneliness affects our mental health and way we can do to help ourselves and others reconnect to the world around us. It includes lesson plans, scripts and a PowerPoint presentation as well as worksheets, assemblies and helpful guides for staff, children and parents/caregivers. It is not specifically aimed at early years, but you can adapt the resources as necessary, and you may find that it is a workshop you want to run with your staff rather than your children in this instance.
Other ways to get involved in Mental Health Awareness Week
- Wear green – the green ribbon is the international symbol for mental health, and you can wear ribbons, pins or whole outfits to raise awareness
- Reach out to vulnerable or lonely people – perhaps organise a tea/coffee morning or arrange a visit to a local care home (restrictions allowing)
- Send some letters or children’s artwork just saying ‘hello’ to people you know who may be lonely
- Fundraise for the charity – run your own event or commit to walking or jogging 80 miles in May to raise money for the charity
- Join in with some of their mental health campaigns such as ones related to gaming and mental health, healthy relationships, and the unlock loneliness campaign specifically related to young people
Mental health is a huge area of medicine which covers many different conditions. In the February edition of the Parenta
Magazine we looked at Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week which you can still read here. There are lots of other resources available on the MHF website too such as tips for maintaining good mental health, coping with the effects of coronavirus lockdowns and long COVID, and many are available in different languages.
If you need support with your own or anyone else’s mental health, you can find a list of useful contact numbers and links here.