Mental Health

Loneliness Awareness Week

It’s Loneliness Awareness Week 2022, a campaign run by Marmalade Trust.

Loneliness affects us all from time to time and some people are naturally happy with their own company and find that ‘alone’ time is their way to recharge.  For others, being alone and isolated is a terribly worrying and uncomfortable experience.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is not a mental health condition. It’s the emotional impact of our social needs not being met.  You can have lots of friends, work colleagues, social media followers, be in a room full of people eager to talk with you and still be lonely.  It’s about meaningful connection.

When we are lonely we may feel unsafe, un-cared for and unloved and this has wider negative implications on all aspects of our health and wellbeing.  Loneliness can lead to anxiety, depression and poor self-care.  The effects of loneliness are often compared to smoking or obesity.

A survey conducted in 2019 of more than 2,000 UK adults found that:

  • Nearly nine in ten (88%) Britons aged from 18 to 24 said they experience loneliness to some degree with a quarter (24%) suffering often and 7% saying they are lonely all of the time.
  • In comparison, 70% of those aged over 55 also say they can be lonely to some extent, however, only 7% are lonely often and just 2% say they are lonely all the time1.

The pandemic further increased loneliness, with young people reporting a negative impact by not being able to see their friends and we know that social interaction is vital for young people.

Scientific reviews have established that loneliness is associated with future mental health problems with depression being the most strongly linked and also anxiety.  The duration of loneliness seems to be the biggest factor in determining symptoms of poor mental health rather than the intensity of the loneliness felt.   

Loneliness in children

Although though we’re out of lockdown, even for me personally things I used to take for granted, such as going shopping or to a gig feel like some big adventure.  Children especially need time to rebuild connections so we won’t know the full impact the pandemic has had for years to come.

The symptoms seem to be different for boys and girls with depression most strongly associated with girls2 and social anxiety in boys3.

In previous studies young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds seem to be adversely affected.  This could be because of not being able to do things their friends are doing, such as going out to the cinema or having the latest video game or trainers.  The Children’s Society 2019 Loneliness in Childhood Report looked further into the links between household income and loneliness.  Rather than just focussing on poverty they looked at all incomes and found that there was a similar pattern in not just low but also very high income households. The report highlights the importance young people place on “fitting in”. It says “Income inequality can be experienced in both subtle and explicit ways by both wealthy and poorer children”.

Social media can also cause problems with young people often feeling left out/isolated or not good enough.  But it can also have a positive effect. Many people are able to stay connected with friends when gaming, through chats or online wellbeing communities such as Kooth.

So what can we do?

If you suspect someone is lonely or isolated, reach out to them, say hello and make a connection.

Try a sport, do some yoga, maybe a hobby or find a peer support group, join a union or professional association. Reach out to loved ones, an old friend you’ve lost touch with or spark up a conversation with a stranger. Try not to get upset and take it personally if it doesn’t go so well. Try again and just remember communication is a two way thing.

As a mental health first aider, one of the most important things we can do is encourage support from family, friends and community

Human connection is so important.

Further resources

Young Minds

British Red Cross

Age UK

  1. Ibbetson, C. Young Britons are the most lonely.….
  2. Liu, H., Zhang, M., Yang, Q. & Yu, B. Gender differences in the influence of social isolation and loneliness on depressive symptoms in college students : a longitudinal study. Soc. Psychiatry Psychiatr. Epidemiol. (2020) doi:10.1007/s00127-019-01726-6.
  3. Mak, Hio Wa, Gregory M. Fosco, M. E. F. The Role of Family for Youth Friendships: Examining a Social Anxiety Mechanism. J Youth Adolesc. 47, 306–320 (2019).

Mental Health

Money Worries and Mental Health

We are living in such turbulent times. So many things have happened which have put a strain on our pockets.  Years of poor government, benefit cuts, tax rises, Brexit, the pandemic, unaffordable housing, rising fuel costs, the cost of living crisis.  And now the war in Ukraine, making everything even more expensive.

Debt stress

Do you feel anxious when thinking about money?  Maybe you are having sleepless nights?  Are you eating less/overeating?  Do you feel isolated, sad, withdrawn and maybe even completely overwhelmed by financial worries?

If so, then you could be suffering from debt stress.  

Financial hardship is a major cause and risk factor for mental ill health.  As you sink into financial difficulties your mental health suffers.  And then you feel less able to deal with these financial matters.  And then this can spiral into chaos.  

I know, I’ve been there.  I left my job in the City due to poor mental and physical health.  Once my statutory sick pay ran out, I found myself on benefits.  Creditors were chasing payments I could no longer make and I ended up in a big mess which had a huge impact on my mental health for years to come.  This could all have been avoided with financial help which my bank just didn’t give.

Where to get help

There are lots of charities out there which can help you with debt, even before you get to the crisis stage.  Maybe with all these rising costs, you’re just worried about how you’re going to meet your payments in the near future?  If so you should really start to get some advice now.

There are many charities that can help and Mental Health UK (the sister charity to Rethink Mental Illness) has lots of great advice on mental health and money, from benefits to paying for mental health care.  I really like their budget planner.

The Money Advice Trust run the National Debt Line where you can get help to find solutions to your debt problems.

Step Change are a national charity who do great work and are fully committed to helping those in debt and who may be suffering with poor mental health. Highly recommended!

You can’t go wrong with the good old CAB (Citizens Advice Bureau).   

If you’re having problems with housing, Shelter are great.  I’ve used them recently and saved myself a few hundred pounds in solicitors fee’s (and sleepless nights).

Martin Lewis’s Money and Mental Health Policy Institute are doing great work aiming to change policy and help break the link between financial and mental health problems.

I also really like Money Nerd, lots of great tips and advice on a range of things.

If you’re suffering with poor mental health you should always seek professional help so go and see your GP. If however the source of your poor mental health is financial worries, you need to seek professional financial advice. The main thing is don’t be afraid to ask, there’s no shame and help is there.

Mental Health

What is Schizophrenia?

National Schizophrenia Awareness Day on 25 July 2021 brings attention to this much misunderstood condition. But exactly what is it?

One of the most common misconceptions about schizophrenia is that it means having a split personality. But that is a completely different illness called dissociative identity disorder.  People also mistakenly think schizophrenics are violent. But again this is not true, as schizophrenics are more likely to harm themselves than others.

Psychosis is an umbrella term for a number of conditions including schizophrenia. The word schizophrenia actually means split mind.

It is a long term medical condition where the main symptoms are:

  • delusions (losing touch with reality),
  • thought disorders (muddled thinking & speech)
  • hallucinations (auditory, visual, taste, touch & smell)

The exact cause is unknown, but it could be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Stressful events can be psychological triggers such as bereavement, losing a job, the end of a relationship, physical, sexual or emotional abuse.  Drug use is linked to schizophrenia and there is also some research to show that people who have had complications at birth may be more susceptible.

It is a debilitating condition affecting 1 in 100 people.  Worldwide it is ranked as one of the highest causes of disability. It is one of the most expensive illnesses through physical co-morbidities (related illnesses), social impairment, inability to work and hospital admissions.

Can Schizophrenia Be Treated?

The main treatment includes anti-psychotic drugs and cognitive behavioural therapy.  Eight out of ten areas in the UK have an Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) team whose aim is to get people in treatment within two weeks.  Early intervention is vital, as treatment outcomes are good when this is caught early on.

One in five people with schizophrenia recover completely with treatment. But others may have times when symptoms return and it is important to learn to recognise the signs and have support in place.

Living with Schizophrenia

Here Antonio speaks about his experience of living with schizophrenia

Find out more about schizophrenia.

And if you are worried for yourself or someone you know, please speak to your GP.

Mental Health

Let’s talk about Men’s Mental Health

Three times as many men as women die by suicide and it is the biggest cause of death for men under 50.  Men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women but are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health concerns.  Often they don’t even recognise them.  

We live in a society that expects men to be strong and in control, making it difficult for men to reach out for support, instead turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms.  Men are three times more likely than women to become dependent on alcohol or drugs.

It’s important that we have safe spaces where men can share their health concerns.  In my own journey, a weekly men’s group was fundamental in helping me to turn my life around. I was an angry young man with physical and mental health problems.  I was off sick from work and struggling with life.  And like many men, anger was an emotion that was both familiar and something I found easy to access and express.

But what was behind the anger?

In my men’s group one day, the facilitator challenged me on my anger.  He asked me to close my eyes and said that he would say things that would make me angry but that I should not react, just stay with the emotions.  He began to speak and I found the anger building, my knuckles clenched and my jaw tightened.  He continued and I began to shake.  After a few minutes (and it may have been much less than that) I started to cry and it wasn’t just a few tears, it was uncontrollable as the years of sadness that I’d been hiding behind my anger came out.

This couldn’t have happened had there been women present for two good reasons.  Number one, and the main reason, is that I wouldn’t have let my guard down in front of females.  And number two is safety. The facilitator probably wouldn’t have tried this just in case I lashed out. So this is one example but there are many subjects that men need a safe space to talk in.

Reach out if you are worried about your mental health.  Connect with friends and talk about your concerns.  Don’t let it build up until it becomes unmanageable.  There is help out there.

And if you are worried about someone else
  • Let them know you are there for them and keep in touch, listen without judgement.
  • Encourage them to get help from their GP or find a men’s group in your area
  • Learn more about the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and how to support someone in distress by taking a mental health first aid course.
  • Check out Men’s Health Forum for more information on men’s health

Mental Health

Sleep and Mental Health

Good sleep is vital to good mental and physical health

Sleep is essential for maintaining good health.  The odd sleepless night may affect your whole day, but consistently not getting enough sleep can have a serious impact on your mental health.  It can affect your ability to concentrate and make good decisions.  It can make you irritable and impatient.  It can cause anxiety and depression and increase your chances of other mental health conditions.  Conversely, having poor mental health can lead to problems with sleep.  It can become a never ending cycle.

In my work as a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, one of the main ways I’ve been able to help people is by helping them to sleep and to sleep properly.

What do I mean by sleep properly?

It’s not just how much sleep we get, but the quality of that sleep.  Some of us need more sleep than others but generally most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per day.  It’s normal to wake in the night, maybe to go to the loo, but if you can’t get back to sleep quickly, then you may not get enough rest.  The golden rule is that you should awake feeling refreshed and ready for the day.

Many people, however, fall asleep exhausted and wake up feeling tired.  This means that they’re not nourished from their sleep and they may rely on coffee or other stimulants to get through the day.  Others may find it hard to get to sleep in the first place because of worry.  Then if they do sleep it may only be for a couple of hours and they wake unable to fall asleep again.  Some complain of grinding teeth, dental problems, headaches and pain in their jaw when they wake.

So how can you improve the quality of your sleep?

With my clients, I often use movement synchronised with the breath, most likely in a supine position.  I might combine this with long held (gentle) stretches.  After this I may use relaxation techniques such PMR (progressive muscle relaxation), conscious breathing (pranayama) and restorative yoga postures, followed by a long savasana (yoga relaxation pose) where I will give a guided relaxation technique called yoga nidra (sleep of the yogis).

Many people have never experienced such deep relaxation and when they do they want more of it.  It’s like they finally have permission to relax.

Try my yoga nidra for sleep. Do it for five consecutive days and see what difference it makes to your happiness, health and wellbeing.

Mental Health

What is Self Harm?

The image that often comes to mind is of someone cutting themselves. But self harm can be any action that causes injury or pain to yourself. Over-eating, over-exercising, participating in unsafe activities, drinking too much are all just harmful to yourself as causing immediate physical injuries.

Many people think those that self harm are just attention seeking. If they were serious, they would attempt suicide, right? But in reality they will often do their best to keep their behaviour a secret. It is a coping strategy, a way of dealing with extremely difficult emotions and feeling some control over unmanageable emotions.

MHFA plenary speaker and self harm awareness trainer Satveer Nijjar discusses and explains more in this video.

According to a report published in the British Medical Journal, non-suicidal self harm has tripled in the UK in the last 10 years though people aren’t accessing services.

The co-author of the report Louis Appleby, from the University of Manchester, commented: “An increase in the prevalence of using self harm to cope with emotional stress could have serious long term implications. There is a risk that self harm will become normalised for young people, and individuals who start to self harm when young might adopt the behaviour as a long term coping strategy.”

Appleby warned, “Non-suicidal self harm may be associated with later suicide. As young people get older, reaching age groups that already have higher suicide rates, the self harm they have learned may become more serious and more likely to have a fatal outcome.”

Where to go for help

Self harm can be successfully treated when caught early and it’s important to get help as soon as possible.

Self Harm UK have launched a free online support group for 14-19 year olds called Alumina.

Young Minds are always an excellent resource for all mental health matters for younger people and they have some great pages around self harm. They also support parents of young people too.

The mental health charity Mind have useful contacts if self harm affects you or someone you know.If you’re in crisis contact The Samaritans on 116 123. In 2019, people discussed self-harm in calls with Samaritans once every two minutes.

In the Adult MHFA courses we learn about crisis first aid for self harm and positive coping strategies to help reduce stress.