However, the stigma around depression acts as a barrier to people seeking help, ultimately preventing them from accessing the medical attention they need. The World Health Organisation notes persistent sadness as a core characteristic of depression. Paired with social stigma, it’s easy to see how people who experience depression can quickly become socially isolated, lonely, and hopeless. We know loneliness is a serious public health issue in its own right, so this World Health Day let’s rally together to alleviate social isolation and any condition it perpetuates.
Like depression, loneliness is complex and both internal and external factors can play a part in causing it and treating it — for example, the NHS encourages people who experience depression to eat healthily, exercise regularly, and venture outside where possible to improve their mental health. Starting a national conversation about the scope and impact of loneliness and isolation is no small feat, but pledging to start the conversation in your local community will lay the groundwork for change on a national scale.
There are plenty of ways to support those we come into contact with: by simply being better connected to each other, communities as a whole can become healthier and happier. In fact, our research on the value of Connected Communities shows that there are multiple mental benefits to reaching out, such as peace of mind and a sense of peaceful living, as well as help in the home. For 1 in 20 people, talking with a neighbour is the highlight of their day!
As a member of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, we want to encourage communities to stand together and speak out against the silent epidemic — simply by starting a conversation. There are hundreds of ways to create connections in your community, but for now, here are ten of our favourites:
1. Share a smile
Instead of having your head down in your phone, or pushing ahead in a rush, think about your face. Chances are it’s not engaged with the people around you. But smiling is easy, convenient, quick, and it can reach loads of people at once. Whether you’re in the supermarket, on public transport, or walking to the office, a smile at the people around you is a simple and effective way to spread some happiness.
2. Hold the door
In the busyness of everyday life, a great way to add value to the lives of those around you is to simply acknowledge the needs you share — like passing through doors or squeezing into the lift. Making these joint experiences easier for each other through simple acts like holding the door open prompts a conversation, and provides an opportunity to make a connection.
3. Give a seat
Whether its for someone less able to stand on public transport or fellow customers struggling to find a seat at your local coffee house, improving the comfort of those around you doesn't cost much but could make someone’s whole day brighter. Sharing a table in a café is also a brilliant opportunity to chat to someone new, even if it’s just to ask them to pass the sugar!
4. Offer to help
A simple ‘need a hand?’ can be the most powerful three words you can say! It could be to the elderly couple struggling with their shopping, the parent wrestling to get their pram up the stairs, or the new neighbour looking lost in town. Letting people know that you see them, and their situation, is as powerful as the practical help you’re offering.
5. Grab a cuppa
Take a few minutes to sit down and have a coffee with a friend and make an effort to learn what’s ‘new’ with them. Pick a time when you won’t have to rush back to work, or get distracted — put your phone away and create some quality time to catch up.
6. Invite the neighbours
Despite the convenient proximity of our neighbours, most of us haven’t had a drink or dinner with them in over a year. Inviting the neighbours over for a meal is a great way to get to know the people who live closest to you, and for those struggling with mobility it may be their only chance to socialise. Getting to know those in your street is central to building a strong local community.
7. Share your news
You may be on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but when is the last time you shared your news with your relatives, or asked them if they’d like to see your latest holiday snaps? Make a point of picking up the phone or writing a letter to share your news to keep the human connections alive, too.
8. Make a gesture
Whether it’s doughnuts for the office, making breakfast in bed, or paying it forward by buying a coffee for the person behind you in the queue, small surprises can break up the monotony of everyday life. It’s also a great talking point for the colleagues you’re still getting to know, or the friendly face you keep running into in the cafe.
9. Put a spring in your step
Make the most of the days getting lighter and get outside for some fresh air, whether that’s to walk your dog with a neighbour, work in a community allotment or join a local running group. Getting outside and being active contiributes to your physical and mental wellbeing and also provides more opportunities to meet new people.
10. It’s a date!
Finally: make a plan, any plan! Putting a date in the diary gives people something to look forward to, particularly if they’re feeling depressed. Having the time to plan can also give you the space to arrange a larger event for a group, even if it’s as simple as going walking in the fresh air, gardening with your neighbours, or grabbing a coffee in a local cafe. If this sounds like your type of thing then get involved with The Big Lunch — check out inspiration and ideas here.
- To learn more about ending the stigma surrounding depression and what you can do to reduce it, check out Time to Change.
- If you’d like to find out more about depression and seek help, please visit www.mind.org.uk.
- If you’d like to find out more about loneliness and seek help, please visit www.campaigntoendloneliness.org.
Letting people know that you see them, and their situation, is as powerful as the practical help you’re offering.