May 9, 2022


By Diana Award Programme Facilitator, Lucy Morris

Long, lonely lockdowns – what now? Young people have been expected to go back to schools and universities as if none of it ever happened. This article explores what loneliness actually is, its effects on our mental health and what actions we can take to fight loneliness, for ourselves and our peers.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is “Loneliness”. Now that the pandemic is over, only the elderly get lonely, right?

What is Loneliness?
Loneliness is a feeling. You may remember feeling lonely when you were stuck in long lockdowns. This is one form of loneliness: being physically alone when you don’t want to be. Connecting online kept a lot of us going, but there’s nothing quite like in-person human connection. So, now that you’re back in school and University, loneliness is a thing of the past, surely, right?

Photo by Ralston Smith on Unsplash

Well, loneliness comes in many forms. You can feel isolated even if you’re in a classroom full of people. And it certainly doesn’t only affect senior citizens. In fact, UK Youth (2018) found that loneliness is common among young people, with 82% of Youth Workers reporting seeing loneliness in the young people they work with. Here at The Diana Award, we think it’s completely normal to feel isolated and even afraid in a world that seems to be pretending the pandemic is no more.

Loneliness and Mental Health
It’s important that we understand the impact loneliness can have on your mental health. The covid-19 pandemic caused a tidal wave epidemic of loneliness. In the UK, 7.4 million people said their well-being was affected by feeling lonely in the first month of national lockdown (ONS, April-May 2020).

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

Many young people were at home with family during lockdowns, but this may make loneliness worse if you aren’t happy with your family, or even felt unsafe. If this was the case for you or a young person you know, you can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.

Additionally, The Diana Award Crisis text message service is here with licensed councilors to listen to those dealing with feelings of loneliness. Even if it’s just to listen and remind you that you may feel lonely but you’re far from alone. Text DA to 85258. Most people will experience loneliness at some point in their lives, especially in the strange times we are facing now.

So, with that said: what can we do about it?

If You Are Feeling Lonely: Share, Say, Do!

  • Share. To your peers, to your teachers, to your parent or guardian. They have likely felt lonely too, and you’re helping to break a huge taboo.
  • Say. Say yes! Don’t let loneliness stop you. This is easier said than done, but loneliness can spiral into symptoms of things like depression or anxiety. Sometimes, lonelier we feel, the more we want to hide away. So try to say yes, to as much as you can. Is there an after-school club you’re not sure if you’ll like? Say yes. A sport that you’re not sure you’ll be any good at? Give it a go. The social element is what makes these activities so valuable. So say yes.
  • Do. Online courses, forums, book clubs, yoga classes. The pandemic encouraged thousands of online groups to spring up – use them! Filling your time with things that interest you can help combat loneliness, and doing it with a group helps you to find like-minded people. And best of all? Online groups are covid-safe. Just make sure you’re staying cyber-safe. More on that here.

If Someone You Know Seems Lonely

  • Start a group yourself! Ask a teacher if you can start an after-school club to fight loneliness – or start a society at your University.
  • Study stress can make someone feel lonely. You could start a study group. Better yet, encourage your friends to take social study breaks. Sometimes, the best study break is one that takes you away from your work completely. Time spent with family or friends can be very healing.
  • Check in on your peers, family, teachers. Even if people seem fine, they may be secretly dealing with feeling lonely. Reach out to include people and simply ask “How are you really doing?” That word “really” can go a long way.

If Your School Has Anti-Bullying Ambassadors

Bullying behaviour can make a target feel deeply isolated. If you are an ambassador or know someone who is, you could point them to our Practical Guide for Anti-Bullying Ambassadors to Tackle Loneliness in Schools.  Perhaps in the next ambassadors meeting, you could discuss the following questions:

1. What can our school do to raise awareness of and tackle loneliness?

2. What can my school governors or local council do?

3. What can the government do? Don’t be afraid to draft a school letter to your local MP.

4. What can charities like The Diana Award do?  

Beyond Your School or University

It starts with your school – but you have the power to take this action beyond. If you’re on social media, you can join the national conversation about loneliness happening right now. Take a look on social media and see just how many people are opening up about loneliness for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week and you’ll see that while you may be just one voice, you have the power to break these taboos and, in doing so, change the world.

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