The effects of self isolation, loneliness and mental health.

The feeling of loneliness is a subjective one. It can come from the lifestyle and conditions in which someone lives. It can come from a person’s inner landscape and the state of their mental and emotional health. The recent health pandemic we find ourselves in causes extreme loneliness, isolation, panic and anxiety.

In either of these cases, loneliness can be especially distressing and a very slippery slope if a person doesn’t have supportive people in their life who can help them reconnect and find the care they need. Even when someone chooses a life of social isolation and seems to thrive under these conditions, it’s a lifestyle which can alter their mental, emotional, and social functioning over time.

Ultimately, the direct and indirect impacts of isolation pose serious risks to one’s mental health. In a direct sense, the experience of social isolation stimulates negative perspective and behaviors, which can intensify over time. In an indirect sense, a lack of support—whether real or perceived—can prevent or undermine treatment outcomes. The effects of social isolation on severe mental health urge our awareness and responsiveness when we know that people are suffering.

How Do We Experience the Effects of Social Isolation?

When we look closely, isolation isn’t necessarily a measure of how many hours a person spends alone or how many friends and other connections they have. The phenomenon of social isolation just isn’t as simple as being alone. In fact, it’s possible for someone to be and feel isolated even when they are in the presence of other people. Let’s look at some of the ways that isolation can manifest for different people:

  • Physical isolation can happen when someone lives in a remote area or otherwise has limited interactions with other people in their home life and throughout their days.
  • Emotional isolation can but doesn’t necessarily depend on the actual state of being alone. Emotional isolation could be imposed upon someone—as in the case of an emotionally abusive, psychologically abusive, or neglectful relationship. It could also be self-imposed, intentionally or unintentionally, if someone is unwilling or unable to invest energy into emotional connections.
  • Psychological isolation can be a complicated situation if someone is mentally disconnected from their own identity and personality or from their reality and the people around them.
  • Rejection or ostracization are acts that purposely isolate a person. The experience of social isolation imposed by others likely comes with additional feelings of shame, pain, and other emotional trauma.
  • A virtual lifestyle is becoming more and more common as people depend on Internet socialization over in-person relationships. A consistent psychological effect of all-virtual interactions is debatable, but there are certainly important aspects of human communication and relationships that are missing from purely virtual interactions.

How Does Social Isolation Have an Effect on Severe Mental Health?

It’s true that loneliness itself is not considered a clinical mental health disorder. But its close connection with our well-being makes it very worthy of our attention. To put it simply, isolation breeds more isolation. Researchers have observedthat persistent loneliness can inspire:

  • A self-preservation mentality and behaviors
  • Fixation on negative thoughts and outcomes
  • Hyper-vigilance toward social threats whether they are present or not
  • Heightened stress and anxiety responses
  • Poor sleep quality if hypervigilance continues

These effects of social isolation can weigh heavily on one’s mood, their perspective, their ability to cope with stress, and perhaps their very sense of self. In the context of social isolation, it is not always a simple and straightforward path of mental health decline. But it does tend to be progressive, especially as mental health disorders develop.

And the effect of social isolation and severe mental health disorders also significantly impairs treatment access and recovery outcomes. The absence of caring and supportive relationships makes it less likely that someone will connect with treatment options. in the first place or that they will be able to maintain recovery progress following treatment. And those who live in social isolation due to personal withdrawal may be less likely to seek or accept treatment. These limitations, on top of the detrimental negative effects of loneliness, can lead to severe and often unaddressed psychological distress.

What Does This Assessment of Isolation and Mental Health Mean for Treatment Outcomes?

The primary concern surrounding mental health disorders that advance in social isolation is that the individuals will not receive the treatment they urgently need. It is often the case for people in psychological distress that a family member or friend helps them to access the best treatment. If the nature of someone’s isolation prevents this access, they could be in danger of further mental health decline and intense suffering.

Another concern is that people who do enter treatment may not have the social support especially on the other side of a treatment stay. It could be detrimental to leave a treatment program and return to a life of isolation. Hence, treatment is as much about developing a context for recovery as it is about applying therapeutic methods.

Comprehensive treatment centers are often designed around a welcoming and understanding community environment. Clients can work with clinicians at their own pace, developing a trusting relationship over time. Peer groups and activities allow clients space and time to discover ways in which they can relate to each other. Ultimately, these peer relationships become a very powerful part of the recovery journey. People who have been isolated in the past begin to break down walls of loneliness and rigid self-preservation. At the same time, structured programs invite family and friends to get involved in the treatment process. Through education and the development of coping strategies and positive relationship dynamics, a lasting support system is built.

Before progress can be made, people who need mental health treatment must get connected. Each one of us can expand our awareness to have a care for those who suffer in social isolation. The conditions of loneliness and isolation themselves are stigmatizing, but only through a close-minded view. We all share a need for human care and connection, and we can open our minds and hearts to those who need to rediscover that path.

Steven Connelly

Overcoming Anxiety

Anxiety is now the number one mental health condition in the UK and with all the new stresses in our daily lives, especially during our current health crisis it has become somewhat of an epidemic. But contrary to what a lot of people think it is a very treatable condition and a lot of people do overcome it with the right help and advice.

When we first seek help in recovering we usually just find ways to manage anxiety and although this was part of my approach, it was more important to me to find the underlying cause of my condition. I wanted to truly understand what was creating it and so as to cut out the root.  I did not want to spend a lifetime treating the symptoms of anxiety, I wanted to be fully free of the condition.

Below are some helpful tips that helped me calm and move on from my anxiety.

Tips to help with anxiety

  • Get plenty of sleep and rest – When our mind and body is overworked it is even more vital to get the rest we need to recuperate.
  • Take up a new hobby – Rather than sit around brooding try and fill your day with something you enjoy. Relaxing or outdoor hobbies serve the most benefit.
  • Get involved in volunteering – Doing something positive can change your mindset and helps you mix with new people.
  • Take up meditation – This can help you let go of that busy mind and mentally switch off. I often meditate to this day and find it hugely beneficial.
  • Stop blaming yourself for how you feel and avoid conflict – When we feel anxious we can sometimes take how we feel on those around us, which only tends to create more drama and toxic feeling in our life. The result of this is just more stress and an increase in our anxiety levels.
  • Talk to others about how you are feeling – Opening up to others can have huge benefits, from being able to drop the act of being O.K to lightening the burden you feel. You will also find that people are far more understanding than you think and in many cases find out that they are going through their private struggle too.
  • Don’t use food or Alcohol to suppress how you are feeling – No one is perfect, and I am not saying don’t have the odd drink or always eat correctly. It is more about not using junk food or alcohol to suppress how you feel. Both will have the opposite effect and will most likely increase your anxiety, make you lethargic and reduce self-esteem.
  • Cut down on the worry. Worry and stress are the most significant contributors to anxiety, indulging in either only hurts you, it doesn’t solve anything. This period of your life is a warning and time to take stock of your life and make some real inner changes.
  • Have some downtime – In this busy day and age of smartphones, computers and 101 channels to chose from, many people now find that their brain is always stimulated. It is so routine now that some even feel uncomfortable if they aren’t watching T.V or staring at a phone, is it any wonder that peoples minds are busier than ever? If you can find half an hour each day to switch everything off and just be with yourself with no distractions, you will see considerable benefits in the long term for doing so.
  • Be loving and patient towards yourself – Don’t have any guilt for the way you feel or fall into any self-pity mode. Also, don’t expect or want to be better yesterday, give the mind and body all the time they need to heal while at the same time being patient and kind to yourself.
  • Don’t fill your day with the subject of anxiety – Filling your day with the subject can end up with the thoughts about anxiety becoming sub-conscious and with this habit, you find you are unable to think of anything else. Firstly there is no reason to go over the subject continuously; it does you no good. You also can’t stop thinking about the subject by trying not to; you do so by adding other things into your day and letting it happen naturally.
  • Don’t avoid life or triggers – Don’t fall into avoidance behaviours because you don’t wish to feel anxiety. This avoidance only creates new problems and ends up giving you a very narrow existence. The truth is recovery lies in these places; it lies in allowing yourself to feel anxious. Regaining your life and former you will never come through avoidance.
  • Do the best you can – Recovery can take time and progress can be slow at first so just do the best you can for now and don’t expect too much too soon. In time you will look back at be amazed at how far you have come.
  • Lose the negative people in your life – If there are people around you who tend to bring you down or pull you into their drama for whatever reason, then it may be time to think of having a spring clean and give yourself some distance for a while.

Steven Connelly

Supporting people with mental health issues.

Encouraging and supporting good mental health and well-being represents a hugely important section of working in the Social Care sector. It is crucial to be able to recognise when there are signs of deteriorating mental health in a client and a great deal of understanding and compassion is necessary if you are considering a role within this sector.

You will need to learn the key signs of when mental health may be deteriorating or there are signs of distress and how to appropriately support and help those suffering. You will also be responsible for promoting dignity and respect, maintain confidentiality and integrity at all times and value the individual’s own knowledge and experience of their issues.

There are many key personal values which are relevant to working in social care. Those needing your care and support have reported that personal values held by social care workers are extremely important factors in how their experiences can differ. It’s important to be aware that personal values are not the same as your principles. It is therefore very important that you can demonstrate a level of personal values which would be rated highly by those needing your care and support and also to understand their role in the way in which you deliver a service. Your personal development would include good training, practice development and peer support. Essential qualities include:

  • Showing empathy
  • Having compassion
  • Display a caring nature
  • Be honest at all times, even if the client doesn’t particularly want to hear it
  • Be consistent
  • Have integrity
  • Be friendly and approachable
  • Be optimistic
  • Ability to motivate others
  • Be non-judgemental
  • Be willing to collaborate with others.

Those with longstanding mental illness or mental health problems needing care and support may experience periods of crisis or distress. Mental illness or mental health problems may develop when clients are receiving social care for other reasons such as other disabilities, conditions or problems they are experiencing in other areas of their lives. Signs of deterioration in mental health to look out for include significant changes in their thoughts, feelings, mood, and behaviour.

It’s important for you to have understanding of these signs so that you could identify when those you’re caring for develop a mental illness or mental health problem and therefore would need adjustments to their ongoing care and support.

You would need an understanding that when people with mental illnesses are in crisis or distress, and behaving in unusual ways this is a result of their illness and not down to something you have said or done. You need to address your own concerns, as well as the person’s and their family and carers concerns and provide timely, appropriate and sensitive responses about the mental health support options available in order to care and support them.

You also need to be sensitive to the idea that those needing care and support may not be able to describe their distress or difficulties and the fact that they may have previously experienced stigma and discrimination in the past and therefore may be reluctant to talk about aspects of their mental health or what has caused their deterioration. You have to be careful not to make assumptions, just respond appropriately, raising concerns if necessary. Be aware that different lifestyles, values and behaviours may be the reasons for these signs, rather than a mental illness or mental health problems. The ability to communicate clearly is important in helping understand their feelings and avoiding any misunderstandings.

You would also be responsible for promoting social inclusion by helping them to maintain positive family and friends relationships, ascertaining if they have peer support and enabling carers to become involved in ongoing support.

Steven Connelly

Do We Care?

Many people may not think that littering affects the environment.

       In reality, littering has an extremely negative impact on the environment. Littering tends to damage areas where we live, work and where children play. There are different factors that lead to littering. Some factors relate to what people do, while others come from areas of manufacturing.

               Litter can come in many different ways and mainly because people can sometimes be rather careless and negligent. Who does it?  Well, a lot of times we see someone driving ahead of us, toss an empty to-go cup out of their window.  Or it could also be someone crumbling up a receipt and missing the garbage can outside.  It could even be a young child that may not know any better, carelessly dropping candy wrappers on the playground.  Some do it by mistake without realizing it, and unfortunately, some simply are too careless and purposely throw trash out of their car window, or just toss an empty can across an open field.

               Littering is a major problem that we need to try to address. 

Whenever you go to an event and there are going to be thousands and thousands of people there, it is going to be hard to control the amount of trash left around.   As some people will throw their trash away in the proper bins, sadly, some will leave their trash careless on the ground. It is our responsibility as people to clean up after ourselves and try to protect our environment, but that thought doesn’t often cross the mind of others. 

                While some people intentionally litter, this is something that can be controlled. More laws can be put in place to control the amount of litter that floods the streets by careless people that are causing harm the environment more than it already is. 

Not only is littering affecting us on the streets and our backyards, but it also affects the oceans, rivers and wildlife. 

Many animals die in their attempts to eat or get caught up in plastic bags left to blow away in the wind. Some people also have been known to throw their beer cans and the plastic rings in the water that can cut the fish and make them choke on the plastic. Many fish die from these factors and it’s time we brought awareness to this problem at hand.

                Littering causes a threat to our health and can cause harmful germs and bacteria. 

Littering can cause fires and also sends a message that people really don’t care about the Earth. 

Whereas some people may not be bothered to live in a world surrounded by trash, others may be trying to prevent that. 

Removing litter costs money, something that is hard for people to let go of. If we can spend a whopping $10 on a fancy cup of coffee, who says we can’t spend a little here and there to help keep our planet clean as well? 

                Above all, littering has a negative effect on everything. Animals get injured and swallow toxic things like oil and pesticides. People or animals can get sick or even die because of careless mistakes that happen in this world every day.  

Littering can be prevented but it has to involve everyone as a whole to help out.  People that get caught littering could face fines or even jail time.  So if someone were to get caught tossing out a cigarette butt out of the car window, they should also know they just threw a bundle of cash out the window. 

So please, be aware of the all of the consequences of littering and help keep our planet

Steven Connelly

During a poll 45% of Young Women admitted they were worried about their mental health. This compared to 36% of young men. Young women from poorer backgrounds were the most worried (50%). This is a significant number compared with previous years.

61% of young people regularly feel stressed and hopeless and 47% of young people say that they have experienced a mental health problem. Young women are more worried than young men about their finances, are more likely to think that confidence is holding them back and are more concerned about there body image. Young women have become a high risk group for mental health issues.

These are shocking facts and figures. They all point in the same direction. But we’re seeing very little action. The scale of the problem means we should see it as a public health issue and focus on prevention where possible, not just on NHS funding. We need to avoid the risk of worries and concerns escalating into mental health problems and more and more young people needing to be treated as “patients”. As a society we have to do more.

Let’s show young people that we care about their mental health and take action to reduce stress and anxiety. Let’s show them that we want them to be part of the workforce and bring their skills and talents to bear. Let’s give them a reason to be optimistic for the future.

Work is a crucial part of this picture. Recently The Prince’s Trust showed that half of young people say that having a job is or would be good for their mental well-being and 61% said it gives them a sense of purpose. But even if young people are in work they often continue to worry. 39% of young women and 36% of young men said they were worried about job security and more than half about how much their job pays.

So, what can we do?

We need to challenge the narrative of some politicians that we have near “full employment”. It is true that unemployment levels overall have reached less than 5% but the unemployment rate amongst young people continues to be over 12% and in some parts of the UK is over 18% – that’s nearly one in five young people unemployed! If our politicians don’t acknowledge the scale of the problem, nothing will be done.

We need to make work pay so that young people don’t need to go into debt or use services such as foodbanks. Good quality work can give people a sense of worth and meaning. At the moment young people under 25 are not even entitled to the same minimum wage as older colleagues. This should be changed so that anyone over 18 is entitled to and can expect equal pay for equal work. We should also control the use of zero hour contracts, so that young people know what they will be earning from one week to the next and are not living in fear that they will not be able to pay the bills.

We need to address the issues that young people identify as causing them stress and anxiety. Personally In my opinion the important issues would be housing costs, unemployment and job security.

There is much more that can be done if the will is there. Not doing anything sacrifices the well-being and mental health of even more of our young people.

Steven Connelly

Preventing Retail Violence

Workers are at an elevated risk of workplace violence, the retail industry experiences the third-highest workplace violence victimisation rate, after law enforcement and mental health professionals.

Some elements make certain retail stores greater targets. Late-night retailers such as convenience stores, supermarkets, and petrol stations and we can’t forget about the employees in the hospitality sector often are at the highest risk, because many have poorly lit car parking facilities and frequently are run by a lone worker.

Employers can implement certain logistical changes to make their retail outlets less susceptible to robbery and other acts of violence. A recent report outlined the guidance on preventing workplace violence in late-night retail establishments which included modifications to the physical environment, such as avoiding signage and shelving that blocks a worker’s view of the windows, installing a drop safe to limit the amount of money on hand, and also using bullet-proof enclosures in areas in south east England to protect workers from potential assailants.

Yet workers also need to be well-trained in how to behave in the event of a robbery or other encounter with a violent customer. At some stores “there have been cutbacks in the security coverage, and that’s a generally a massive concern. It’s not uncommon for an employee at a supermarket or a chemist to encounter violent situations a couple times a year.”

The main thing workers need to understand is to not resist in a robbery situation. My personal advice is to be as cooperative, calm and nonthreatening as possible, workers should be instructed to not confront shoplifters. “Unfortunately, some of those smaller retailers do … expect their employees to actively confront a shoplifter.” It’s very difficult not to though.

However, workplace violence can erupt not only at the hands of would-be robbers and shoplifters, but also from disgruntled customers. In those cases. I truly believe it is critical that employees know when to turn the situation over to a manager. “Be clear about the role of the manager. When a situation is developing with a customer, where they are getting more and more irate, [workers should] turn that over to a manager and not continue to get involved.”

Workers should not feel like they are failing to do their job or letting the manager down by doing this. “I would say that would be the critical point [in prevention] and hopefully stores have that policy. Managers are the ones that are trained to do that higher level of customer relations, and hopefully employees don’t make the mistake of getting personally involved in the situation. That’s the key part of training, as difficult as it is.”

Steven Connelly

How to support grieving children and young people.

Feelings are complicated, and sorrow is one of the most intense and individualized. Processing grief, expressing emotions, and learning to move forward when experiencing personal loss can seem like insurmountable tasks for anyone to tackle.

Children are particularly vulnerable in these difficult situations. They might find it hard to even wrap their head around the concept of death for the first time, or struggle to communicate the intensity of their sadness, anger, fear, relief, or confusion. Grief can become an overwhelming burden that weighs on school performance, social relationships, and behavior.

What to Do and Say

  • Be present and authentic.Children are sensitive to dishonesty, and they can often tell if someone is not being truthful. Speak directly about your own feelings, but avoid manufacturing an emotional response. If you, too, feel distressed by the child’s loss, you might say, “I was sorry to hear about your brother’s death. I feel very sad that he died. I know you must have some feelings about this. Would you like to talk about your brother or tell me what these last few days have been like?” If you didn’t know the person who died, it would not be appropriate to say, “I will miss her, too.” But it would make sense to a child if you said, “I didn’t know your friend, but I can tell she was someone who was very important to you. I feel sad that you had to experience such a loss.”
  • Listen more, talk less. It’s fine to share personal feelings and express caring and concern, but it should be kept brief. Keep the focus on the child who is grieving and give them plenty of space and time to talk. Consider saying something like: “I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you,” or “I wonder what this is like for you,” and then offer your time and attention as a good listener.
  • Allow emotional expression. Young people going through grief are often told to “be strong,” “toughen up,” or cover up their feelings. A more helpful intervention is to invite them to talk about their emotions as an important part of grieving. This may mean watching someone be angry, selfish, or grief struck. You can open the door to expression by saying: “Most people have strong feelings when something like this happens in their lives. Has that been true for you?” or “I wonder what kind of feelings you’re having about this,” and allow them to feel safe and validated in whatever their response may be.
  • Demonstrate empathy.Reflect back what you see the young person expressing directly or indirectly. It should be done with compassion, sincerity, and without judgment. Offer an opportunity for them to open up by saying something like, “What have the last few days been like for you?”
  • Stop harmful reactions when safety is a concern.You may find that some children react to grief with angry outbursts. Expressions such as these are natural and show a willingness to experience some of the deep feelings that accompany profound grief. You can allow grieving children to cry, shout, kick the floor, or throw down a book. However, if that behavior poses a risk to the grieving child or others, you do need to step in to help them stop.

What NOT to Say 

It’s hard to know what to say, especially when emotions run high, and sometimes we all make missteps when trying to find the right words in a difficult situation. But, even if said with the best of intentions.

  • “I know exactly what you are going through.” It is not possible to know what another individual is going through, especially in a matter as profound as the loss of a loved one. Even if you have lost family members, close friends, or a spouse, your own experience is as distinct as the children you teach.
  • “Both of my parents died when I was your age.” Avoid statements that compete with the child’s experiences of loss. The child who had one parent or a sibling die may feel their loss is not as meaningful if the focus is shifted to someone who has suffered even more. Referring to another individual who lost both parents last year may make children feel their situation is not as significant.
  • “My 15-year-old dog died last week. I feel very sad, too.” It is impossible to compare losses, and generally not useful to attempt to do so. As much as possible, keep your focus on the child’s own unique experience and need for support.
  • “You’ll need to be strong now for your family. It’s important to get a grip on your feelings.” Grieving children are often told they should not be expressive–that they need to grow up fast, keep it together for their family, manage their feelings, and not feel sorry for themselves. Don’t hold the child back from experiencing the deep feelings they are having, as that is an essential part of coping and adjusting.
  • “I know this must be difficult, but it’s important to remember the good things in life as well.” Your desire to cheer up a grieving child is understandable, but it may quiet their expressions of grief. Give them permission to fully experience and express their powerful feelings, to help them process their loss.
  • “You must be incredibly angry.” Anger is a natural reaction in the grief process, but it is impossible to know what someone is experiencing at any given time. Avoid projecting feelings onto your student. Suggesting that they ought to feel a certain way is not helpful. Instead, validate the idea that there is no one right way to feel.

The bottom line is to lead with your heart and be genuine, but always be mindful that your words and actions can make a difference and must be chosen carefully. The most important opportunity you can offer grieving children is that of expressing their thoughts and feelings fully. When children feel safe in accepting and expressing the full range of their intense emotions, that time of grieving can ultimately become a time of personal understanding and growth. But, in the moment of dealing with that significant loss, it is truly hard work for a child. You can be a lifeline in their day-to-day struggle of facing and emerging from grief. Be the one who “gets it.” Be the person who offers sensitive support and guidance, who helps the child navigate this difficult time and find their own path to peace.

Steven Connelly