Today is the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (May is Mental Health Awareness month), and this year, the theme is loneliness.
Although it is perfectly possible to be lonely in a crowd, we tend to experience loneliness less deeply and less frequently when we are in regular face-to-face social contact with others. We know that the isolation of successive lockdowns saw an increase in reported loneliness, but since restrictions have been lifted many of us have continued to re-engage with the social and community contexts we were embedded in before the pandemic. In both my church congregation(s) and my running club, I have heard several people saying recently, with sadness, that it just isn’t what it was. And the reality is that they are right.
We may have come through the restrictions of the past two years, but the recovery is going to take a long time. Some experts are saying it will take a decade. And in the meantime, loneliness is its own pandemic, with attending depression and increased risk of attempted or completed suicide.
Loneliness is a mental health issue. And as with many health issues, loneliness in small doses can be positive, promoting us to reach out to others; but, at chronic levels, it flips into something that turns our bodies against ourselves. And loneliness is a public health issue: we share some degree of collective responsibility for one another's wellbeing.
What might you do to protect yourself, and those around you, from loneliness this week?
What help might you need? And who might partner with you?
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