One in four adults feel lonely, some or all the time. That is, I think, a truly frightening number. Over the last few years mental health statistics within the UK have been on a rapid rise. Mental Health Awareness Week (9th -15th May) hosted each year by the Mental Health Foundation is raising awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental health and the practical steps we can take to address it.
Becoming a Mental Health First Aider
During the pandemic I became a Mental Health First Aider within my workplace after seeing the impacts working from home was having on many of my colleagues. I remember the first well-being call I had with a colleague so clearly. They opened-up about their worries, the stress and anxiety of working from home and balancing childcare, as well as at the forefront of their worries, the anxiety they were feeling over their children’s mental health and the long-term impacts of a lockdown.
At this time, I had become increasingly aware of the isolation impact lockdown was having on my nephew, with worried text messages from him including phone calls and questions on when we would all see each other as a family.
There are times in life when certain emotions can be difficult to deal with as a child and it’s not always easy to open up and talk about your feelings. Sometimes it just takes some time, but with the right guidance, anything is possible.
I started working on ‘My Emotions Activity Book‘ as a way to engage with my nephew, using my watercolour animal illustrations to develop activities to help him open up and express himself.
The benefits of ‘My Emotions Activity Book’
As I worked on the book, it became clear that there were lots of children out there who would benefit from this sort of approach. After seeing the success that the activity book was having within my network of friends and family, I decided to launch the activity book as a free of charge printable resource and since launching the activity book is now used by high-profile childcare specialists across the UK.
I have noticed in my work with the activity book over the last year that feeling lonely is not just present within adults and that feeling lonely is felt by many children too. I know this from seeing how many children are drawing their own animal character with the feeling of being lonely.
“The children are enjoying it – initially, I had printed it for my 7-year-old but my 3-year-old wanted it as well! She’s in love with Polly the poodle! They did the whale mood exercise. Then Noah* drew himself playing with the penguins in the snow for favourite place. Interestingly he drew the penguin crying and I asked why, and he told me he feels lonely. Which opened up a chat about loneliness.” Parent – anonymous
Since I have gained a greater understanding and awareness of the current mental health crisis for young persons and children within the UK by my work for ‘My Emotions Activity Book’ and how early life adversity can have a very real negative impact on mental health. This is one of the reasons I continue to keep the activity book freely available to help children talk about their early life adversity in a calm, creative and safe way with the grown-ups in their lives.
Resources to help
There is no easy or quick fix for the current mental health crisis within the UK however it is important to reflect on how you are doing mentally. Are you finding that you are feeling run down? Is your sleep pattern erratic? If that sounds like a familiar scenario to you then it might be time to look at ways in which you can improve your mental health. Here are a few resources for some mental health boosters:
The Mental Health Foundation has put together lots of resources for those suffering from loneliness, anxiety or depression which can be found all over their website https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/ and The City Mental Health Alliance has put together a brilliant resource for parents and caregivers on children’s mental health in their recent ‘Toolkit for Parents’.
Doing less but more of what I love – volunteering
What has helped me with my mental health and helps me feel like I have built a sense of community is the volunteer and partnership work I have been doing for charities like The Buddy Bag Foundation and Kidscape.
I believe that volunteer work is the most rewarding thing you can do for yourself, for others and for your community. As we approach the end of Mental Health Awareness month, this is a great time to consider the ways that volunteer work could be the steps to help you with feelings of loneliness.
I’ve been volunteering for the last year, and I can tell you that it’s changed my life for the better. I feel like I’m making a difference in other people’s lives, and it has made me more confident in myself as well.
Volunteering has also helped me learn more about myself and what I want out of life. For example, when I first started volunteering with The Buddy Bag Foundation, I didn’t know what to expect from it—but now that I’ve been doing it for a while, I know that this is something I want to do long-term. Studies have shown that having strong social networks is linked with better mental health outcomes.
Where do I start?
So you want to get involved in charity work and you’re wondering how to get started?
First things first, take a deep breath. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of charities out there and their needs. But don’t be afraid to ask questions! Most charities are happy to answer any queries you may have about what they do or how they operate and you have to feel aligned to the work that the charity or organisation does.
Start small! Look into what you’re passionate about and do some research, the skillset you may have might be just what an organisation or charity is looking for. Whether you work in HR and can cast an eye over HR policies for the charity as and when needed, work in social media and can help a charity formulate new ideas for upcoming posts. Volunteering is not just about the hours that you can commit to each week, it really is about how your skills can help aid a charity, particularly small to medium and grass root charities that can have limited resources and budgets available to them.
Volunteering is an underutilized and highly effective tool in the fight against feelings of loneliness, isolation, and alienation. I encourage all readers to consider giving it a try if they have a free block of time on their hands. Not only could it help you, but it may even indirectly help those around you—in ways you never even thought possible.
Find out more
If you’d like to hear more about my volunteer work you can check out the podcast link below and if you’d like to donate to provide copies of the activity book to vulnerable children you can via my partnership with Givey (a platform that allows you to do so at no cost to the charity).
Written by Laura Helen Brown
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