Every year the Mental Health Foundation runs a Mental Health Awareness Week campaign, with the aim of ‘raising awareness and inspiring action to promote the message of good mental health for everyone’ (Mental Health Foundation, 2022).
This week’s theme is loneliness; something which affects many people but is often not recognised or discussed due to stigma attached to both being and feeling alone.
Definition and causes of loneliness
Most common definitions of loneliness refer to a state of solitude or being physically alone, however it is also referred to as feeling alone, whether a person is surrounded by a person or people.
Many factors can contribute to someone experiencing loneliness, for example they may have suffered a personal bereavement, gone through a recent separation or experienced a change in professional circumstances which has had an impact on where they work and who they work with.
Impact of loneliness on our mental health
There has been a vast increase in the amount of people reporting feelings of loneliness over the past two years, not least due to several national lockdowns and restrictions limiting people’s ability to physically socialise with each other.
It has long been known that when a person’s ability to socialise and connect with others is reduced or stopped altogether, it leads to increased feelings of isolation and distress. This can cause or further exacerbate anxiety and depression, both common mental health problems which are known to impact on a person’s physical health.
Impact of loneliness on our physical health
Someone who is experiencing anxiety, depression or another form of mental ill health as a result of loneliness is less likely to: eat a well-balanced diet, partake in regular exercise and experience good quality sleep – all factors which can negatively impact their overall health and wellbeing.
How employers can help to reduce the impact of loneliness
Many organisations will have experienced vast changes over the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic; office workers may now be working from their homes full time, factory workers may have seen their shift patterns altered, and some may have had their working hours reduced or been made redundant.
Employers can help by acknowledging any change in workers’ circumstances and how this may have had an impact. As employers have a legal duty of care regarding the health and safety of their employees, creating an environment in which people are not isolated from colleagues and feel their feelings and opinions matter can go a long way in addressing potential loneliness.
People are more likely to be open and honest about what they are experiencing if they feel listened to. Line managers play a key role in supporting their colleagues; asking open questions, leaving devices out of meetings and making eye contact can all help in building positive relationships and combating people’s feelings of loneliness.
Are you concerned about a colleague?
If you are concerned about the wellbeing of a colleague, mental health support services including one-to-one counselling are available as well as mental health training courses for line managers to aid them in addressing more sensitive workplace problems.
Alternatively, it may be necessary to book an occupational health referral for one of your employees. Get in touch with us to find out more via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 0121 601 4041.
Sources: Mental Health Foundation (2022); Twinkl (2022); Samaritans (2022); Verywell Mind (2021); GOV.UK (2019).