This year, 9th May – 15th May marks Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. It’s a time to get vocal about mental health – to start conversations about it with our friends, families, and the wider public. Whether it’s sparking up a discussion on social media or simply having a chat over a coffee with someone close, there’s something all of us can do.
Mental Health Awareness Week lays down a pair of challenges that everyone can get involved with. Thinking – and talking – about mental health, in order to reduce the societal stigma around it, is one.
The other? Encouraging people to think about mental health and illness in a wider, more holistic way – to not be limited by narrow definitions, or common misconceptions.
To look at mental health and its flipside not in black or white, but in shades of grey. At how everyone – every day – can experience turbulent mental health. And how everything – be it a devastating loss, or the most mundane of day-to-day events – can have a bearing on how we think, act, and behave.
It’s about acknowledging mental health and illness in all its manifestations.
Take loneliness, for example. When you think of mental health, it’s unlikely that loneliness is the first thing that pops into your head.
Yet – in the UK, at least – loneliness is staggeringly widespread. In May 2020, 5% of the UK’s people – 1 in 20, or around 2.6 million adults – reported feeling lonely “often” or “always”. Later, in February 2021 – following almost a year’s worth of lockdowns, travel curbs, restrictions on gatherings, and social distancing – that portion rose to 7.2%.
Loneliness isn’t an isolated phenomenon – and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. So why are people lonely?
Often, loneliness is the product of a bereavement – the loss of someone close. Loneliness and grief are far from strange bedfellows: where one exists, the other is rarely lurking too far away.
Loneliness is also one of the most trying, testing parts of grief. When a loss happens, it’s devastating – but it’s an event. It’s something tangible, that happened. Loneliness is typically insidious and ever-present – a constant, unwanted companion that won’t leave its sufferer alone.
At ellenor, we understand what it’s like to lose a loved one – and what it feels like afterwards. And it’s why we do all we can, everyday, to walk alongside the families of our patients, when they die – to ensure they have the right tools and techniques to cope with loneliness.
We offer several bereavement support groups for people living with loss and loneliness. Our Bereavement Cuppas provide a supportive environment for people to get together for an informal chat over a cup of tea, while our Walk and Talk group brings grieving individuals together for a brisk stroll – and a hot drink.
The families of patients we’ve supported can also access befrienders – volunteers who visit patients and carers at their homes, and ease the burden of their loneliness. Befrienders provide company, as well as a crucial sense of consistency in the lives of life-limited patients – not to mention equally vital respite for their families and carers.