All by Myself
Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 9 to 15 May 2022
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore our understanding of loneliness.
Preparation and materials
- Further information about mental health is available from the Mental Health Foundation at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/ and from Mind at: https://www.mind.org.uk/
- We are built for connection. We are not solitary people. We are connected in families, in partnerships and marriages, in friendship groups, in teams and by many other social links. When we are disconnected, we feel lonely, and it isn’t a pleasant feeling.
- This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the topic for the event this year is loneliness. It’s an issue that has grown in significance during the pandemic. Let’s think of our own experiences.
- How did homeschooling feel in terms of being disconnected from friends?
- How did it feel to be in isolation because we’d tested positive for Covid?
- Did we get lonely?
If possible, allow time for discussion in groups. If appropriate, listen to feedback.
- By contrast, remember how great it felt when we could connect more freely with others as lockdown ended, and school and social activities opened up again.
- However, loneliness can also occur during normal times.
- We can feel lonely when we’re with our friends, our family or our social group - even when we’re in a crowd.
- We can feel lonely or detached if we feel left out of certain conversations or activities.
- We can feel lonely because we have no one to discuss a problem with in confidence. This can make us realize that the relationships that we have are fairly shallow.
- We can feel lonely if we sense that we’re out of tune with others’ expectations because ours are starting to drift in a different direction.
There are probably some students in this group who would describe themselves as feeling lonely right now.
- So, what does loneliness feel like?
Encourage discussion in groups.
In terms of our mental health, loneliness can result in depression, sleep difficulties, anxiety and low self-esteem.
Ask the students, ‘Do you recognize any of these effects?’
Over time, loneliness can also affect our physical health. We lose fitness, our energy levels reduce and even our immune systems can be impaired. This is why it’s important for us to learn some strategies to handle loneliness.
Time for reflection
Jesus had times when he was lonely. The Bible uses words from an Old Testament prophecy to describe his experience, particularly at the crucifixion: ‘We despised him and rejected him; he endured suffering and pain. No one would even look at him – we ignored him as if he were nothing.’ (Isaiah 53.3)
Jesus’ final words as he died - ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27.46) - indicate the total loneliness that he felt. Christians believe that this is a sign of how closely Jesus identifies with us and sympathizes with us when we experience loneliness.
This is why, in creating his Church, Jesus emphasized that it was to be a community of people in relationship. Saint Paul expands on this by likening the Church to a body, with many different limbs and organs connected together. We are built for connection.
Loneliness has always been around; it isn’t a new phenomenon. To alleviate it, we can try some of the activities outlined in the ‘Extension activities’ part of the assembly.
‘I’m so lonesome I could cry’ by Hank Williams, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WXYjm74WFI (3 minutes long)
‘You’ve got a friend in me’ from the film Toy Story 4, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNZUKm0ApEM (2.08 minutes long)
- To alleviate loneliness, we can try some of the following activities. They have a twofold benefit: they address our own loneliness by giving us a reason to engage with other people, and they address loneliness in others by providing companionship.
- Volunteering at a local charity.
- Doing an unexpected favour for someone in our community.
- Smiling and saying hello to complete strangers.
- Exercising. Our bodies will automatically produce endorphins (a natural feel-good drug) and we never know who we might meet at the gym, on a walk or on a run.