Moving from loneliness to feeling connected and valued

May 2022

This Mental Health Awareness Week, West Sussex Mind training manager Charlotte Dawber picks up the theme of loneliness, recounting Sara's story and reflecting on what we can learn about building resilience

Sara was an older woman who, although she lacked some self-confidence, had been very social when she was younger. In later years, she developed anxiety and depression. When she retired, Sara and her husband relocated from a village where she knew everyone to a small town with facilities but where she knew nobody.

After a while, Sara realised that she was lonely. She told me how she sat one evening with the TV for company, with her husband sleeping in the armchair, and thought to herself if this was what the rest of her life was going to be like.

You may wonder how could she be lonely? She had a husband, children and friends at the end of a telephone. But the truth is you do not need to be alone to be lonely. Loneliness is a perception of deficiencies in your social relationships. So you can be socially isolated but not lonely - and vice versa.

In the UK about six percent of people report feelings of loneliness despite being more ‘connected’ than ever before. Loneliness can also be associated with a broad range of mental health problems, particularly with depression, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder.

So what can we do to avoid feeling lonely? Increasing personal emotional resilience and our belief that we can achieve our goals contributes to our perceived life quality. At the same time, reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms will certainly help.

Enhancing social support and increasing opportunities for social contact will also make a difference.

But what is most effective is addressing negative thoughts about self-worth and how other people perceive you. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help with this.

She knew that the only person that could start this change was herself

So what happened to Sara? She knew that the only person that could start this change was herself so she thought about when she had felt connected and valued. She visited the library and found the address of the local WI secretary, she joined that and another group knitting Teddies for Tragedies (and recruited others from the neighbourhood). She volunteered in a local charity shop and helped with a group that provided outings for elderly people.

Now Sara was busy, connected with her community, she knew her neighbours and once more had a purpose in life, knowing she was making a difference to others and at the same time improving life and mental health for herself.

Someone told me recently that ‘every journey starts from where we are’ and I think of this and look forward to where I want to be. Then I think of Sara and am inspired to find my own courage to make my change.