The Mental Health Foundation chose loneliness as the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week because it’s affecting more and more people in the UK.
At first, you might think that loneliness is an issue that mainly affects older people – but it’s having an impact on children and young people too.
Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. It’s about not having the friendships and connections you want and need, or not having people you can be your whole, true self around.
While loneliness isn’t a mental health problem, the two are closely linked. Feeling lonely can affect people’s wellbeing; some research suggests it’s associated with an increased risk of mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
At the same time, we know that having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely. It can be hard to talk about mental health problems with friends and family if you’re worried about stigma or judgement. And if you don’t hear stories of other people experiencing similar things, you might end up feeling pretty isolated.
Best For You is here to make sure young people get the support they need. A key part of this involves making sure young people have access to information about mental health and a safe place to share experiences and hear from others.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re sharing seven ways that Best For You tackles loneliness.
1: important conversations
Even though lots of people experience mental health problems, it isn’t always easy for them to talk about their experiences. People might be worried about how others will react or concerned that they’ll be treated differently, for example.
It can feel lonely if it seems like you’re the only one struggling in a specific way, or if you have questions that you don’t feel like you can ask anyone.
When we don’t talk about mental health problems, people end up with misunderstandings about what they’re like. In turn, this makes it even harder for people to share their experiences!
Best For You disrupts this cycle by creating opportunities for young people to ask experts their questions about mental health and wellbeing. We bring together different sorts of experts (including people with experience of mental ill-health as well as doctors and nurses) to have helpful, important conversations.
In this video, Antonio Ferreira, Mental Health Activist, chats to Lucy Presley, Deputy Lead Nurse for Mental Health, as they answer young people’s questions about anxiety and depression:
In this video, Dr Stephanie Slater talks about her experiences of depression and anxiety and what’s helped her manage:
2: online platform
The Best For You website exists to share information and supportive content about mental health and wellbeing.
It gives young people the chance to share their stories, so other young people know they’re not alone. The site breaks down stigma by discussing topics like self-harm and mental health conditions like schizophrenia, OCD, and eating disorders.
The platform also has links so young people can find the most appropriate help and support for them, whether that’s an NHS mental health service or a specific youth project in their area.
3: day service
If you’ve spent much time on our website, you might have spotted information about a day service. We’re really excited to finally be able to tell you a bit more about the service, which we’re designing with young people for young people.
Launching later this year, the Best For You day service will provide a bespoke clinical service for young people with the highest needs. It will mean some young people will be able to to receive treatment while staying at home (where it’s clinically appropriate), so they have the support of their family and friends.
The day service will also be a space where all young people can access signposting and information about mental health and wellbeing. It will mean that young people can access the support they need and also remind them that they’re not alone
If you’re interested in being part of the design process or want to let us know what you think the day service should be like, you can sign up for our day service feedback session through Eventbrite.
4: app library
There are thousands of apps for health and wellbeing, so deciding which to trust can be overwhelming.
Best For You work with experts at ORCHA on the Best For You app library. ORCHA have reviewed every app on the library to make sure they’re safe and accurate.
You can search for library for apps that help with whatever you’re struggling with (like ‘self-harm’ or ‘sleep’) or check out the lists of top rated apps for things like low mood, eating disorders, and anxiety.
It can be helpful to use an app that recognises your experiences – it can feel less lonely to know that other people are struggling with similar things. Some apps on the library also offer young people the chance to safely connect with others, including 7 Cups and MindShift CBT.
5: NATTER text support
Best For You works with Shout to make sure that young people can access 24/7 text-based support. You can text NATTER to 85258 to be connected with an empathetic, trained volunteer.
We know that some young people get in contact to talk specifically about loneliness and being lonely – but you can also talk about issues like mental health problems, self-harm, and bullying.
Whatever you discuss, the volunteers listen without judgement. They’ll help you to reach a calmer place with a plan that you can use to support yourself going forwards.
NATTER provides immediate to support to young people feeling alone or isolated and helps combat loneliness by making sure that you always have somewhere to talk about your experiences.
6: local partners
We know that one of the best ways to combat loneliness is to create communities, where people share more than just location. We knew that we wanted to give young people the chance to connect with others over a shared interest or passion.
That’s one of the reasons why we’re working with community organisations across North West London to offer young people opportunities to boost their wellbeing.
For example, we’re working with West London Zone to support young people with digital offers, dedicated projects, and training. We’re also working with Chelsea FC Foundation to support their community outreach teams with digital access and support, as well as working together to deliver a joint programme of physical and mental wellbeing support.
Sunday 7: volunteering
Volunteers are a really important part of Best For You.
Most young people who are struggling with their mental health won’t need to go to hospital. But when we talked to young people who had spent time there, they told us how lonely it was. Clinical staff (people like doctors and nurses) are amazing – but they don’t always have lots of time, and sometimes they’re not very relatable either.
Best For You volunteers already do amazing work to support young people on hospital wards. Together, volunteers and young people might look at the Best For You app library, play a therapeutic game, or just chat about the young person’s day.
At the same time, volunteers learn lots of skills and are less likely to experience loneliness themselves!
Soon, we’ll have volunteering opportunities to support our community partnerships and brand new day service.