Wondering how to help someone struggling with loneliness? According to the UK’s minister for loneliness Baroness Diana Barran, the answer could lie in our ability to be vulnerable.
The coronavirus lockdown has taken its toll on all of us. Whether you’ve found yourself worrying about your loved ones for hours on end, struggling to stay positive about the future or dealing with increased financial stress, there’s no denying that the last couple of months have been difficult, no matter what your situation looks like.
However, it’s also important to acknowledge that some people have had a harder time than others, especially those who have found themselves isolated from their families and friends for an extended period of time. As the government urged people across the country to stay home in order to stop the spread of Covid-19, there was another problem spreading under the surface: loneliness.
People who’ve never dealt with loneliness before may now be feeling isolated and alone. And while talking to friends or family members over Zoom or Houseparty may mitigate some of those feelings, it can still feel uncomfortable to admit when we’re struggling: despite the common conception that old people are most likely to be afflicted by loneliness, an October 2019 YouGov survey revealed that 25% of 25-34-year-olds feel lonely “often” or “all the time” compared to only 9% of those aged 55+.
Although the number of people in the 55+ age group who are currently shielding is likely to make that number rise, it’s still important to make sure that younger people feel comfortable admitting when they’re struggling, especially during this difficult time.
Speaking to Stylist, the UK’s loneliness minister Baroness Diana Barran explains that the stigma that remains around loneliness – that it’s something which doesn’t affect young people or that it’s something very few people deal with – is still a massive issue.
“Very often people think that it’s quite an unusual thing,” she explains. “They think that it’s their fault, that somehow they’re inadequate, and that’s why they feel lonely. Of course we know that actually, and particularly at the moment in the current situation, many, many people experience loneliness. It’s an entirely natural thing to feel. And actually, we also know that just talking to somebody else about it can help relieve your loneliness.”
In an attempt to get people talking about loneliness and relieve some of the stigma surrounding it, the government has launched a #LetsTalkLoneliness campaign. Led by a network of organisations including the BBC, ITV, Age UK and the Jo Cox Foundation, the campaign aims to encourage us to speak more openly about dealing with loneliness, in a bid to make it easier to admit when we’re struggling.
Indeed, as Barran explains, one of the most important things we can do to help those around us is open up about what’s going on inside our heads. Speaking about how we’re feeling – whether or not we’re struggling with loneliness – helps the people around us to feel more comfortable about opening up.
“At the moment, if you’re not in the same house as somebody you’re worried about, you can pick up the telephone,” she says. “Then it’s about listening to how they are but also sharing how you are. I think admitting that you’ve had some good days and some bad days – which I think for most of us is probably pretty true at the moment – allows others to say, ‘that’s my experience too, I’ve had some rotten moments’ and they don’t have to pretend that they’re coping brilliantly.
“Being able to share those low moments as well as the times that you laughed out loud – the spectrum of emotions – is a good thing to do and is something that is, in a small way, healing for both parties. I’m sure I’m not unusual, but if someone rings me up and says, I’ve been thinking about you, I’m wondering how you are. You know, that’s just a lovely thing.”
If there’s one thing we can take away from the current situation, it’s this ability to be more open with each other. Being vulnerable and honest about how we’re feeling, especially on social media, will help to make things easier in the future, Barran suggests.
“I think that a lot more people at the moment are able to say that they’re feeling vulnerable,” she says. “And that sort of unlocks the door to a different kind of conversation, especially on social media – some people still have that morecompetitive mindset, but we’ve seen many, many more people admitting their vulnerability, including people you never thought might be vulnerable.”
Coping with loneliness
If you’re feeling lonely at the moment, it’s important to understand that you’re not alone. The coronavirus lockdown has left many people feeling isolated – but reaching out and talking about how you’re feeling can make a difference. To find out more about coping with loneliness during the coronavirus lockdown, you can check out these three articles:
- Feeling lonely during lockdown? You need to read this
- “Hearing others talk about how they feel in lockdown has made me feel less alone”
- Feeling lonely? Here’s how to tell when you’re struggling (and what to do about it)
For more information on coping with loneliness and taking care of your mental health, including organisations that might be able help, you can check out the NHS loneliness pages or visit the Mind website.
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