This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. It’s a yearly event that shines a light on the importance of looking after your mental health and is organised by the Mental Health Foundation.
This year, the focus is loneliness. Something all of us will experience at some point in our lives.
In this article we talk about what loneliness is and what the Severn Trent Services team is doing to help support people.
What is loneliness?
As the Mental Health Foundation point out, “Loneliness is feeling alone, not being alone.” There’s a big difference.
It can be caused by events and circumstances in your life, or it can become a symptom of a mental health issue. And what’s more, it can be fleeting or chronic.
People might assume you’re lonely because you live by yourself. People might also assume you’re not lonely because you have lots of family and friends. That’s the challenge of tackling loneliness: it’s misunderstood, it’s unseen, and people don’t always admit to feeling lonely.
The impact of loneliness
Loneliness can cause mental and physical health challenges, or it can arise because of those challenges. For example, those with a disability or long-term illness are often at more risk of loneliness.
Recently, research from the University of Exeter has shown that loneliness also makes it harder to find work because of the impact it can have on mental health.
A coffee and a chat can help
This year, Severn Trent Services launched the ‘Coffee & a Chat’ initiative – one of several initiatives designed to improve the mental wellbeing of employees.
Dan McArdle, Head of Water Services Contracts, says: “Each month, our teams are allocated time in their diaries to grab a coffee – on us – and have a chat in person or over Teams with a colleague they haven’t seen for a while, or with somebody they know hasn’t been feeling 100%.
“It’s designed for our teams to take time out of a usually busy day and to encourage those all-important social connections that help to improve wellbeing.”
An app for mental health and wellbeing
The coronavirus lockdowns exacerbated feelings of loneliness for some people. To address this, Severn Trent Services employees were given access to a mental health and wellbeing app that is still being used today.
Donna Royles, SHE Advisor (Safety, Health, and Environment), explains: “The app – inspired by one of our contractors – encourages people to record how they’re feeling each day. It prompts employees to tell us if they’d like somebody to contact them, like a Mental Health First Aider, or their line manager.
“I monitor app usage daily and connect those people who might need help, with those who can provide help. And every week, I send positive messages to app users to remind them that they’re not alone.
“I remember one colleague who reached out for help said they felt isolated at home. Listening to their story, I made the mistake of assuming they were a single parent. It turns out they had a spouse living with them. So, it’s important to understand that even those who have people near them can still feel alone.”
Sharing stories to stimulate conversations
Donna is a Mental Health First Aider and is passionate about helping her colleagues to improve their mental health. She also believes that talking about loneliness, or any mental health issue, is an important way to remove the stigma.
She says: “I’ve suffered from anxiety in the past and have tried to hide it from previous employers because I feared their reaction. That’s a lonely place to be.
“But it’s my own personal experiences that have driven me to champion mental health in Severn Trent Services.
“Aside from helping others, I carve out ten minutes each day to do something for me. This helps improve my own mental health.
“During that time, I might play my guitar for example. It’s something I love to do and is a great way to occasionally bring people together for a jolly sing-along!”
Things everyone can do to help combat loneliness
- Share your own story of loneliness to encourage others to do the same
- Learn more about loneliness. There are loads of useful resources online
- Prompt yourself and your colleagues to spend more time together. For example, by going for a walk or having lunch together
- Make a conscious effort to notice and check-in with your colleagues
- Perform a ‘random act of kindness’ to make a colleague feel special
Dan adds: “All people in Severn Trent Services follow a Mental Health Standard. Line managers attend a Mental Health Awareness course, and there are 20 fully trained Mental Health First Aiders, wearing yellow lanyards to invite their colleagues to reach out to them if they ever feel alone.”