Mental Health Awareness Week 2022: Loneliness
How to support patients struggling with loneliness as a private healthcare practice
As some may know, this week (9th - 15th May) is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme for this year is loneliness. It’s a strange world we live in. With globalisation, the internet, and social media, it’s hard to believe that anyone could be lonely. Mental Health UK, however, reports that one out of four people in the UK have experienced a mental health problem in their lifetime - and that was before the Coronavirus pandemic hit.
Loneliness, and its effects on our mental health, is something that we should therefore all be made aware of. The Semble team is committed to helping practices deliver efficient healthcare to their patients, and mental health is definitely a part of that. This year, Semble is proud to be raising money for Mind in the form of a cook-off.
What are the effects of loneliness?
Loneliness can unfortunately be both a cause and a result of mental illness. No matter how introverted or independent some of us may be, it is a biological fact that we are social animals, and therefore hardwired to thrive in environments that allow us to interact with other people. Social stigma, or the perception that we must protect others from our mental illness, can push people into isolating themselves when they actually need support the most.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) suggests that the effects of loneliness can be as harmful to health as “obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day”. They have also linked many healthcare problems to loneliness that include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Deficits in self-care and motivation, and shortfalls in nutrition, exercise and personal hygiene
- Increased inflammatory response
- Decreased motivation to maintain recovery plans, such as dealing with wounds or new prosthetics
Many of the above can lead to more serious health problems, and of course contribute to the negative cycle of mental health in general. Healthcare practices should therefore take this topic very seriously, because if left unchecked, a lonely patient may end up being a terminal one.
There are many ways in which practices can and do identify loneliness in patients, but here are some additional suggestions:
Seeing if your patients all have an ‘Emergency Contact’ added to their record, could be informative as to whether they might be suffering from loneliness or not. Patients who are feeling lonely may not think they have anyone who they could rely on to be an emergency contact, so if they don’t give your practice one, it might be worth investigating why.
You could require your patients to fill in a pre-consultation questionnaire, and ask them whether there have been any significant changes to their personal life (a loved one passing away, a relationship break-up, etc). This questionnaire could be especially relevant if they’ve booked a mental health appointment.
Digital consultation notes can be a great tool for clinicians to use when they’re assessing a patient. For mental health appointments, your practice could make or edit a consultation note template that prompts clinicians to talk about loneliness with the patient.
So how can we help people to overcome loneliness in healthcare? How can we support our team members, our patients, and our peers?
Here are a few suggestions for what we can do:
As mentioned above, mental health has a stigma attached to it that breeds loneliness. Therefore, one of the most important things we can do is talk about it! Don’t be afraid to share with someone that you’re feeling lonely, or have felt lonely in the past. Make it clear that it’s also okay for someone to approach you about the topic.
If appropriate, your practice could follow and share social media accounts that promote mental health awareness, or you could even produce your own content.
It is undeniable that we now live in a working world of digital and face-to-face interaction. If you are a staunch homeworker, or have a colleague who is, that doesn’t mean that you still can’t interact with people meaningfully. Instead of just messaging someone, why not arrange to have a 10 minute coffee catch up over a video call? Seeing someone’s face is a much more engaging experience than just reading text on a screen.
For your patients, you might consider turning your phone appointments into video consultations. They may require a little more set up time, but it could go a really long way into establishing a more personal connection with the patient.
Encourage them to Seek Help
If your practice doesn’t have the tools to fully combat mental illness, then consider displaying external information in your practice building or website. The following NHS support numbers are available 24hrs a day, and free to use for anyone in the UK:
(Samaritans) 116 123
0845 46 47
The following charities also provide a wealth of resources for those struggling with mental illness:
Loneliness is something that no one should have to suffer with, but will most likely be felt by everyone at sometime in their lives. We have a responsibility to help each other out, and this responsibility should be most keenly addressed in the healthcare industry.
Let your patients and colleagues know that their mental health is important, and support Mental Health Awareness Week to end the stigma surrounding loneliness.
You may also like...
Taking care of your wellbeing as a healthcare professional
Five ways to support your mental health and wellbeing as a healthcare worker