Loneliness can be a hard thing to go through and an even harder thing to admit to.
We're not really designed to be alone, so if you find yourself spending a lot of time on your own, either by choice or through circumstance, your mental health can suffer.
Social contact through relationships and friendships can be a rewarding experience for a number of reasons. [Cue more stuff about socialising].
YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME!
Loneliness isn't necessarily just about being alone. It can manifest itself by not feeling or being part of the wider world. You might have lots of friends, many people around you at work, a pub full of drinking buddies or neighbours you say "Hello" to on a regular basis, but you can still feel lonely, especially if those relationships don't fulfil your needs.
Mental illness can make you feel lonely too. There are many conditions that mean social connections are difficult to create or maintain, not to mention the anxiety some feel about meeting people or the stigma that often goes with a mental illness. Seriously? It's the 21st century and we still think of mental illness as a taboo? Come on! [Rant over].
Personal circumstances can also play a part. For many, a low self-worth or confidence in themselves means they consciously withdraw from social circles. This can also happen due to traumatic personal events that leave you isolated, through no fault of your own.
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS
Whatever your circumstances, Men Tell are here to help you. We fully appreciate that getting out there and becoming more social is easier said than done. We know that. But sometimes, we need a little push and we're really good at that! So how do you start to connect with people? I'm glad you asked!
People aren't measured (and shouldn't be) by how many friends they have on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Social contact is much more real than that. The way to start, if you're feeling lonely, is with small steps.
- Chances are you'll already have people in your life you want to connect (or reconnect) with. Start with those. Ring them, text them, invite them round for a coffee, email, whatever you're comfortable with. Go for a pint, or meet up in a location that you're comfortable with and go for walk and a chat. No pressure but even the smallest of things can make you feel better. If you know someone with a mental illness, do the same thing for them. They'll appreciate it so much.
- The next tip is to make the most of the social contact you do have. There will be some. Whether that's a quick chat with the newsagent when you buy your morning paper, other parents during the school run or the person you see at the bus or train station every day. A simple "hello" to start with, then gradually build up to a conversation as you get more comfortable. These simple things can really help you feel connected to people.
- Join a local group or society. This works whether you're feeling lonely or just want to increase your social circle. Whatever your interest, there is bound to be local interest group not too far from you. Whether that's a local football team or supporters club, pub quiz league, walking or cycling club, reading group or even a peer support group. All of these exist to help you and others connect. If there isn't one for your particular interest, consider starting one and helping others who may be in the same boat. If it's a boat sharing society, you've lucked out!
- Finally, this section is for those of you who are either actually quite happy on their own, thank you very much or perhaps the tips above haven't quite worked out just yet. Being on your own doesn't have to a insular experience. Use it to make the most of what time you do have by engaging in a little 'me time'. Do something you enjoy like reading, watching a movie or some of that sport they keep going on about. Use the time to catch up on your emails, reading list or engage in a hobby you enjoy (or start a new one). We have loads of ideas as part of our self-help Man-Kit.
We know depression can be a self-limiting condition, where you just don't feel like mixing with people. Simply going out for a coffee or a text can be just what you (or they) need to help yourself or your friend. Having social support from family, friends and colleagues can help you in the battle against mental illness. That's what friends are for.
Finally, a study by the Medical Research Council entitled Drinking Attitude in Midlife (DrAM) found that men between 30-50 who drank in groups in the pub reported a positive effect on their mental wellbeing and allowed them to open up and talk about their emotions.
So, the next time your partner has a go at you about going to the pub, you can say it helps your mental health. It might not help your back when you're sleeping on the sofa later that night, but that's the risk you take!
If you have any experience about how any socialising has helped you and you'd like to share it with our community, please take a look at our 'Men Tell' section.