Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 – Loneliness.

As this is my first blog, I’d like to start by thanking the staff, volunteers and service users of The Alice Cross Centre for your warm welcome to my new role as General Manager.  Your support means a lot to me. I have spent the first few weeks observing the many and varied weekly activities that take place here such as Tai Chi, Zumba, Yoga, Table Tennis, Craft Club, IT Club and our Memory Café to name but a few. I have immersed myself in meeting everybody and understanding more about the role The Alice Cross Centre plays within the community. Our Meal Home Delivery Service which started as a response to the pandemic has become a vital lifeline for many vulnerable people, unable to access a daily hot meal and so we plan to develop and continue this service, with the aim of reaching even more people. We also plan to open The Alice Cross Community Café later this year, so watch this space!

Our mission here at The Alice Cross Centre is to support the community by making later life a fulfilling and enjoyable experience and how we deliver this is through food, education and tackling social isolation. What better way to enjoy yourself then over a delicious meal with good friends, chatting about life and putting the world to rights. It is Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 this week and this year’s theme is loneliness. Loneliness effects millions of people daily in the UK and is one of the key reasons cited for poor mental health. This has not been helped by the pandemic, where families, friends and communities were not able to be physically together during lockdown. I am sure we have all felt lonely at some point in our lives, I know I have. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you live alone and have no social contact. You can feel lonely for many reasons, even when surrounded by people.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Our connection to other people and our community is fundamental to protecting our mental health so we find much better ways of tackling the epidemic of loneliness. We can all play a part in this. The week is also an invaluable opportunity for people to talk about all aspects of mental health, with a focus on providing help and advice.” Feeling lonely can affect your mental health but it can also be caused by already suffering from poor mental health. It is so important to raise awareness so that people understand the importance of creating connections that support them before it feels too overwhelming to make changes.

Yesterday, I got chatting to one of our leaders who runs a drama club here for under 16’s. She told me how much some of the children had lost their confidence since the pandemic and we discussed the reasons why, which applies to us all. The first thing was the uncertainty during this time, amplified by constant access to news and opinions. Uncertainty about school, learning remotely, the cancellation of exams and being apart from friends, peers and teachers increased feelings of anxiety and loneliness. The good news was that coming back to their drama classes in The Alice Cross Centre was helping to build the children’s confidence again.

Similarly, I see this at every event that we have. How a shared interest, human connection and a regular date in the diary with something to look forward to brings so much enjoyment and pleasure and gives life meaning and purpose. This doesn’t just include our service users, but our staff and volunteers also. We have an incredible team of volunteers that we rely on to help run our services. I am in awe of the time and commitment that our volunteers give us, but I also appreciate that it is a two-way relationship that supports us both. So much laughter and fun is had during the working day, whether it is helping in the kitchen, delivering meals or organising events and there is a shared satisfaction and sense of purpose in seeing the positive outcomes our work and service gives to The Alice Cross Community.

So, what can we do to support Mental Health Awareness Week to help alleviate loneliness? Practical steps to help others include checking in on friends and family to see how they are. Really listen to them. Think about people in your neighbourhood. Is their anybody who lives alone that might benefit from your support? Practice a random act of kindness or strike up a conversation with somebody who you come across in your daily life. Donate to a charity that supports people in the community.

If you are feeling lonely, find a group that you can join doing something that interests you. Joining a walking group or other fitness activity is a great way to meet people and of benefit to your mental health. Even just getting out into a green space for a walk is a great way to lift your spirits. Getting online is another good way to chat to friends and family and if you don’t have the skills, there are many local beginners IT groups out there. We run regular IT courses. Volunteering is another great way of meeting people and giving back to your local community at the same time. We always need more Volunteers at The Alice Cross. Here are some more tips on alleviating loneliness from the Mental Health Foundation.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, goes on to say, “Loneliness deserves more attention and we’re calling on everyone who has struggled as a result of being lonely to share their experiences. We must work together – as individuals, as a society and through government policy – to reduce loneliness and prevent mental health problems by investing in welcoming, social spaces and new community initiatives.” Here at The Alice Cross Centre, we provide that welcoming social space and hope that you will come and join our “Drop in Cuppa and Cake afternoon” on Friday 13th May from 1pm – 3pm. Please don’t be shy if you have never visited us before. You can find out more about what we do and you never know, you might find a group here you can join or a social event that you would like to attend. We look forward to meeting you.

Jackie O’Brien

General Manager

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