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Blog: 2020 has been a year of isolation and we all have a responsibility to tackle loneliness

Blog written by Lisa Fathers, Director of Teaching School & Partnerships

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There’s been a heightened focus on loneliness in the media recently, with figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), highlighting that in the week up to 1 November, the number of people suffering from severe loneliness (always or often) was highest it has been since the start of the pandemic.*

Loneliness has at times, crept into most of our lives in recent months in some shape or form, but it has also been affecting wider groups in more detrimental ways – not just the elderly, those in care homes, people shielding, but families who don’t have internet access, young adults working from home, single people, those with disabilities…the list goes on.

Loneliness is personal, incredibly complex and it is emotive. It can have a huge impact on our perception of self.

It’s not just about physical loneliness.  You can be lonely when you’re surrounded by lots of people who care about you.  It’s the feeling you can get when you don’t feel connected.  That’s why this year we’ve chosen the theme of ‘Coming together’ for our Christmas poetry competition. You can find the details of this below.

Some people may find themselves in a situation where they feel lonely because of their circumstances.  For example, mobility issues, or an illness means they are unable to get out and about independently like those who have been shielding during the pandemic. For others, loneliness can be linked to self-esteem or the feeling that they have somehow failed.  Asking for help can become more difficult in this situation and long-term loneliness can lead to depression, stress and anxiety.  

It is also associated with transitions or changes in life – bereavement, redundancy or retirement.  We have all been through a huge transition over the last nine months, affecting our relationships – our personal and professional lives.  As well as the bigger changes that have affected us, many of us are missing hugs from our friends and family and this can make us feel lonely at times. 

Studies show young people feel loneliness more strongly than any other group. We know that there have been so many life milestones that have been missed this year, school leavers parties, post-exam festivals, graduations. There are many pupils who have not returned to school since the first lockdown.

The good news is that we can all play a part in helping to prevent and tackle loneliness.

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According to The Campaign to End Loneliness, almost nine in ten people believe that small moments of connection can make a big difference. ** This could be a brief hello, a conversation in a shop or a smile, but these can all make a difference to people’s attitudes towards their community and the place where they live.

We are so privileged to have such a wide number of Mental Health First Aiders in our network, who have the right skills to be able to identify and reach out to someone who may be lonely. Let’s put those early intervention skills, such as listening and offering encouragement, to great use.   

We can all check in on those around us – look out for small subtle signs someone may be lonely: hostility (a sharp tone of voice), loss of or weight gain, tiredness, sadness.  

Thinking about how we might be able to pass on our skills to others who we wouldn’t normally engage with can also build a stronger community network.   It could be a neighbourhood group or a bigger organisation, even a professional group – colleagues may need help.  Many baby groups are not able to take place as they usually would, so consider colleagues who may be on maternity leave.  The key is to reach out.    

As the end of another year draws near, and with many of us working in such fast-paced environments, loneliness is an important topic for us to reflect on.  Many individuals struggle with this, particularly at Christmas.

During the first lockdown we saw some shining examples of how our school communities were helping individuals to overcome loneliness, including pupils from Stanley Grove writing letters to care home residents in Stockport and sending virtual hugs. We know there are many more examples.  So, in the run up to this year’s festive period, let’s all think about how we can make a difference to bring one another closer together in whatever way we can.

Here are a few tips to help get started:

  • Think about neighbours, people in your community who might really appreciate a message or a chat. Do they need any help with shopping?
  • Consider work colleagues or acquaintances who you may not see as much now due to changes brought about by the pandemic
  • Accept an invitation – it might be an opportunity to spend a bit of time with someone who needs a chat
  • Stay connected – plan to invigorate old contacts or make new ones
  • Think about your own interests, sport, music and who might also be interested in these?
  • Listen and actively listen to someone – don’t let your mind wander and don’t interrupt 
  • Smile at someone, say hello. It might lead to a conversation
  • Give – it doesn’t have to cost anything! Time, advice, a skill, a recipe….all of these things can be shared virtually. Kind deeds can make a huge difference to someone’s day
  • Volunteer – if you have the time, many charities still have volunteering opportunities available
  • Join a local Facebook group and see if anyone needs help with anything
  • If you need help on this subject from us, please do get in touch and we will support however we can.  Connecting people is what we love to do! 

If you require additional resources, the following organisations have dedicated pages to support loneliness:

References

Beat loneliness tips1
Alliance for Learning
Cavendish Road, Bowdon
Altrincham WA14 2NL
Proud to part of the Bright Futures Education Trust