Mental Health Awareness Week is the ongoing effort to reduce the stigma around mental illness and mental health conditions. For 2022, between 9th – 15th May, there is a particular focus on
loneliness and how loneliness affects our mental health. It’s vital to have these themes each year, but now more than ever as we come back into the workplace, or start to meet up more often with friends and family, we must take the time to personally look at our own mental health, and also recognise when others may need us to reach out. We might not individually always recognise when our mental health or outlook is not normal, but just someone asking you “are you ok?” or “do you fancy a chat” can spark many different emotions.
Loneliness is a really interesting theme for so many reasons, and how each person deals with loneliness can be so different. It is also really important to understand the difference between being alone, through choice or personality, as opposed to being lonely because there is no support, no people around you, nobody to talk with or just no interest in what you do. How we react to this can also be completely different.
In my experience as a man, I feel that men are not as good as women at recognising when we are suffering from loneliness, I for one used to be terrible at checking in on my own mental health, and then actually addressing any concerns. My continued reaction to things was “it will be alright” and then brushing over and moving on to the next thing, or I retire into a state of non-communication, become insular, get frustrated, frustrate others, become ineffective and then slowly bury my head further into the sand. However, on the other hand, I watch females discuss issues, often very honestly and openly, put the world to right, look out for one another and help each other find solutions to help. Perhaps for men it’s a pride thing, or just a complete resistance that no one knows what I’m going through and therefore they wouldn’t care or be able to help. #IveBeenThere, or maybe as a child we were taught that boys shouldn’t show their emotions so freely?
Mental health, positive and negative, is not something to be ashamed of, I have come to realise this over the past few years and I am no longer scared to talk openly about it. That doesn’t mean I let it dominate mine or other people’s lives, but actually finding those people around me who I trust and more importantly trust me, is vital. For me, this is why loneliness is so important, and not being lonely will keep me and others moving in a positive direction. Many people I live and work with expect me due to barriers that I have built up over the years, or what I do, how I do it and the list goes on. However, I would guess that not many would know I’m an introvert, sensing, thinking and perceiving. When I looked further into my personality there were things that surprised me, but then I reflected and it made sense why I do things the way I do, and there are elements that need to be improved upon. One major part for improvement in my ability to communicate with people, particularly my family, friends and workmates who are closest to me. My particular blind spot is that I do not realise that people find it difficult to work effectively with me because of my inability for me to build personal connections, show empathy and can often be detached. This isn’t because I don’t try or don’t want to build the connections, it’s just a personality trait. A negative and unintentional result of this, is it can create loneliness due to lack of communication, engagement or excitement, then it is very simple for myself to isolate away and although I love being alone in my own company and space, it can quickly turn to loneliness.
I have personally benefited from speaking to professionals on this topic and particularly to get a much better understanding of myself. This has firstly allowed me to realise that I’m not the odd one out and that other people are similar. It has also allowed me to recognise where I need to make improvements and step outside of my own comfort zone to enable others to be with me and remove that loneliness. I am a firm believer that we can make positive changes to how we are and behave, without negatively impacting our core personality/values. I always look at things in a sporting context and training, and I go back to 2015 when I first decided to take on the challenge of an Ironman race. I could not have turned up on the July morning in Bolton, firstly without training and secondly without a coach and the latter one for the most important thing. My coach had been there, understood the mindset and understood the loneliness that comes with training, with hormones and the negativity it brings to the people around you, and now reflecting on it I didn’t see those parts until it was too late and I went from having ‘alone’ time to train to actually being completely ‘lonely’ because I’d pushed so many people away. So I decided to do another two full Ironman races, for a number of reasons, but primarily to prove to those people around me that I could listen, change and make improvements to how I was with others during the training program. I learnt quickly that being lonely is not a fun place to be and being a natural introvert it was difficult to then reengage with people and understand that what I was actually doing was creating a very lonely space for myself, particularly in relation to family and friends. For the two subsequent races I trained hard, however, I also balanced it with being present in the moment and realising that the loneliness was completely different to being alone when I wanted to be.
I now take this into everyday life and by no means are there quick fixes to how I am, but through training and practice, as I did in that first Ironman race; through coaching personally; and speaking to the right people, I have learnt to accept my personality type and I am focused on making changes to not only improve my interaction with those people I come into contact with but also to avoid future loneliness.
So as we return to our office environment and meet up more, remember we are all different and some of us will have dealt with the lockdowns differently from others. There could be anxiety and depression because of the loneliness experienced. There is also a high chance that we will not even recognise it ourselves, therefore be a great friend to your workmate, friend or family member, and remember to simply ask them “are you ok”, “do you fancy a chat” or simply be present in their company and willing to listen when they feel ready to talk.
What I will say from experience is that the more we talk to others, and have mental heath awareness the easier it becomes.
I would love for others to reach out and share their own experiences of loneliness. And please remember, although we celebrate Mental Health Awareness one week of a year, we should be looking at it on a monthly, weekly and daily basis to make improvements and become happier people for it.
A personal account by our Director Peter Wharton