Written by Finn Dobson – Peer Support Worker in Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service
In a world in which we are increasingly spending more time on our own – either through working from home, shopping online, doing solo hobbies, or spending time on social media rather than face to face with friends – loneliness is becoming a problem that affects more and more of us. During this Mental Health Awareness Week, it is a good time for us all to reflect on what contributes to our own and others’ loneliness, and what we can do to combat it.
As a Peer Support Worker in Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service, loneliness is a common thread that ties together many of my clients from differing backgrounds. Some might have social anxiety or agoraphobia and rarely, if ever, spend time with others. Others have experienced trauma that makes it hard to trust people or form new relationships. Some may be asylum seekers or refugees whose differences in language & culture or experiences of trauma can make it difficult to communicate, understand the systems in this country, or overcome negative reactions they’ve had from others due to stigma. And some clients deal with physical restrictions that mean they cannot easily access support groups, are in constant pain, or cannot leave the house on their own safely. It’s not a surprise that we find isolation a contributing factor to poor mental health for all these people and more.
I am also part of the Leeds LGBT+ Minds project – a coproduction project looking at the mental health of LGBTQIA+ communities and how Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service might better serve them. During our Community Wellbeing Festival, we collected data on what contributes to good or poor mental wellbeing, as well what people need to keep themselves well. Community – or a lack thereof – has come up as a strong theme during our analysis of this data, showing the need for people to socialise and be around others who understand, or are open to understanding, their experiences.
From a lived experience perspective, I know that the last thing that I want to do when I am feeling low or anxious is be around others. However I also know that isolating myself only proves to further exacerbate any mental distress I’m experiencing. During my journey with my mental health, finding community has been incredibly important for me. I have done this through attending cultural events, volunteering, reigniting old friendships, and pushing myself to sit with my social anxiety through all of this (and equally knowing when I need to leave and have a lie down!)
Finding community can be hard, but there are people and organisations out there who can facilitate this relationship building. Peer support has been a massive part of my own journey in feeling less alone, in conquering the hardest of times in my life, and of building lasting relationships. I’d encourage everyone to share what they are doing in their service or personal lives this week that brings us all that little bit closer together. Below are just a small sample of some of the ways that one might find community:
Volunteering: Doing Good Leeds | DGL Homepage | For the Third Sector in Leeds
Social and wellbeing activities for asylum seekers and refugees: social and wellbeing activities in Leeds · Activities · Made with Glide (glideapp.io)
What’s on for Men in Leeds: [ Let’s Unlock – What’s On for Men in Leeds] (dwcdn.net)
Social and wellbeing groups for peoples’ mental health: Live Well Leeds – Community Based Mental Health Service
Get-togethers in your area: Meetup – We are what we do
If you run peer support groups in your service please feel free to share these with the LMWS Peer Support team by emailing myself at firstname.lastname@example.org or our general mail, email@example.com