Yes, my wife beat me.

I was embarrassed, ashamed, and wanted to take my life. But I didn’t. I realised I was more than those beatings. I have more in me and I have my children to care for and who care for me.

Roy*, Friendship Bench Client

Being a man who is being beaten by his wife is something that all men cover up, it’s an embarrassment, it means we are not really men in our culture . We walk with our heads high on the outside, our chests out and hold deep voiced conversations full of strength, but inside, inside we are being torn apart by shame, anxiety and depression.

My name is Roy* and l am aged 42. I am married with 4 children. Before Covid-19 started l was employed as a gardener and my wife as a maid. Unfortunately, l lost my job but was lucky to have my wife continue with her work. I began to see the other side of my wife; that is when the beatings started. Whenever l asked for food l was replied by a slap on my face. l lost my dignity as the man of the house as l had nothing to put on the table. I tried to look for something to do but due to this Covid-19 pandemic nothing materialised. One day when l got back to the house, it was empty all the children were not there. When l got in contact with my wife, she told me that she had taken the kids to her mother as l was unable to feed them as their father. I was heartbroken, torn in pieces. I saw myself as a failure and useless, l thought the best solution there was to take my own life.

It was not an easy decision; l did not have a plan and the courage to do it. One of my neighbours saw how troubled l was and approached me but l could not share anything with him. He talked to me about the Friendship Bench which was a free counselling service offered by the Lay Health Workers at our local clinic. I decided to try that out.

I met with one of the Lay Health Workers who said she was there to listen, she told me there would be no judgement but that I needed to talk about what was happening at home or it would make me sick, she said I was already showing the signs of ‘kufungisisa’ (thinking too much in the local Shona language, roughly translated in depression and anxiety) according to the 14 questions we went through . Opening up about the beatings was something that l had not done before to anyone, because l felt l was not man enough, but Ambuya Utano (the Lay Health Worker) was able to create an environment where l felt safe and understood, she just nodded and shook her head, she didn’t laugh or raise her eyebrows and she told me she had a few men who talked similarly to her and that I wasn’t alone. To learn it wasn’t only me helped me to share, I found myself pouring out my agonies. For the first time l felt I was being myself, I was allowed to share the truth, it was different from sharing stories with friends where I needed to pretend all was okay and my wife was good and she was just visiting her mother for holidays.  

As l was suicidal, one of the questions that the grandmother asked me really helped to make a smart decision of my life. She asked me if l had planned anything for those that were remaining behind since l was planning to take my life. I began to think about my children and realised how selfish l really wanted to be, l had nothing left for them, and I knew they needed a father, too many neighbours had lost a parent and one parent was not enough. From then on, l decided to go back home and keep looking for work, for my kids I wanted to show them not to give up but to keep trying.

I am thankful to Friendship Bench, l am alive today because of you. I am working hard today for my kids because of you. I have accepted myself and have inner peace because of you.

I have not looked for my wife yet as l have decided to work on myself first and prioritise the welfare of my kids. I would not know if we have separated or not as she moved out with her clothes, she is now living at her workplace. When the pandemic lockdown is lifted l will go to my in-laws to collect my kids. What will happen from there I don’t know but I can be living today and make changes for the future now.


*Names have been changed to protect clients anonymity and confidentiality

When the bag tears, the shoulders get a rest.

“When we discover we are more than the problems we have been through we are capable of great things.”

Mugumba Mukoki

In the year 2014 I became a victim of Substance Induced Psychosis (2014-2017) and was admitted into Hospital as a  result of failure to repress my sorrows towards staying away from my family, I was living in fear every day and I had lost hope in living for another day.

By the end of 2017 after having spent one week in hospital, I met Professor Dixon Chibanda and Hopewell Chin’ono as they were shooting a documentary on mental health issues in Zimbabwe. My mother volunteered for this documentary on my behalf and that was the turning point for me. Meeting Prof. Chibanda opened a window of opportunities for me, the kind that I had never thought would be possible. 

Upon recovering from the shackles of my mental health condition, I was introduced to the Youth Friendship Bench and this is where I found my safe space, I found belonging and connection with people who understood. It has given me purpose, I realised I needed to use what I had gone through to try and prevent others getting to the point of hospital admittance because of psychotic episodes. The community engagements that I have taken part in so far has given me some insight into how as people we are affected by circumstances beyond our control and the impact that these issues have on our state of mind. Getting to share my story and hearing the stories of other youths during  our Circle Kubatana Tose peer support groups has given me great joy. Having learnt that the stories we share could help change someone’s life for the better, I will continue to share mine for as long as I can.

All in all, being part of the Youth friendship bench has been a life changing experience. I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of mental health awareness and how dialogue can go a long way in addressing the problems we face as youth in Zimbabwe.


Find out more about the #StateOfMind documentary spoken of above. To share your story takes courage, Mugumba Mukoki is courage in body, mind and soul.

HEALING LIKE A MOTH DRAWN TO A FLAME

Written & lived by Thembile Gola

When we’re born we bring so much joy, happiness, excitement to the people around us, a heart-warming time, untouched by life, pure and innocent. Then life starts to happen, and quickly. I can remember being in sixth grade and not understanding why I felt like crying. Is it normal to cry? Do people cry?  What will they think of me crying? Why can’t I stop this? I also did not understand why I felt warm and fuzzy and smiled uncontrollably sometimes but other times I was down and not an ice-cream or call from a friend could bring back that smile. Being an African child, I don’t remember talking about feelings at home, or hearing that my birth brough people joy, I only know that now because I’ve seen it in others.

Nobody talked about the ups and downs of emotions. Nobody warned me that it happens. Nobody told me that all of it is temporary and that it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be ecstatic but know it won’t last forever so I shouldn’t try cling to it. Nobody told me that I’m not odd for having salty water coming from my eyes. Nobody said that all of this happens and it is just what makes us human. According to me, emotions did not exist outside of what I saw on television. As cliché as it sounds, this was a real thing. Thembi had no clue.

Fast forward to Uni, a quick summary; ‘the worst period of my life’, the end. Everything around me was toxic and I was okay with it. Not because I wanted to be but because I did not see the need to choose or feel that I needed something better for myself. I was drowning in destructive emotions and unhealthy situations. I knew that I was unhappy, but again what did happiness look like? What exactly am I choosing happiness over? I was just moving with life, wasn’t I? It took breaking down to my knees, and more unexplainable tears, to know that I was dying inside, slowly and surely. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” The words were almost cliché for me as I was once again conducting my own funeral with my pillow bearing witness in attendance. Tears! Again! Why are you here! And then they’re just gone. Just like that. Like it never happened?

I almost felt mad at myself every time I broke down like that. Why did I do it? Did it help? “You’re too sensitive for nothing,” I castigated myself. Like I said, as a typical African child, we did not discuss emotions in our household. Silence, brush offs, minimization is the recurring trend. I did not know, that for me, this silence was pushing me towards the edge. The balloon popped from nowhere and for a period I could not recognize myself. Confused by my own feelings and emotions, literally because I knew no better.

In my own searching silence, I finally got the resolve to do better by myself, motivated by hunger for change; simple put, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired . My google search history was automated at this point by phrases like “signs of depression,” “what is an emotional breakdown,” “unhappiness”. That’s when I noticed in all my reading that I wasn’t the only one that felt feelings so intense and unexplainable that they could eat a person alive inside. People do cry sometimes, and it’s okay; this was mind boggling for me, it was okay to cry and not know what to feel!

I did not know that the next and only other time I would share this experience was in the same Uni that constituted the worst period of my life, on World Mental Health Day as a representative of the Friendship Bench; yes, it does sounds like another cliché. Professor Dixon Chibanda, persuasive as he is, squeezed it out of me; Thembi, stand as keynote speaker, with a speech, read it in public, in a place with a history of struggle. What a nerve wracking experience, to say the least! However, it was a beautiful speech, and it was clearly meant to be part of my path to heal the past. Lecturers that never looked my way shook my hand on that day, happiness was the feeling, happiness was warm, and vulnerability was not something to fear.

Emotions are a natural part of our biology. The brain has a specific section dedicated to the triggering and regulation of our emotions. It really is natural. I know that now! The problem is that there is not enough conversation about it especially within the family context. As we grow we need guidance in knowing the difference between emotions and healthy and unhealthy expression of emotions, as well as the consequences of trying to silence them and stuff them down. Ignoring the topic does not mean it does not exist. As peers we need to constantly check on each other, educate each other on the different things we face. There’s nothing worse than feeling alone.

We live in a very informative time. The advent of technology has made information available everywhere, almost at an overload if we aren’t careful. So ask Dr Google, check sites with credibility and read a few, don’t cherry pick what suits you, note the overview and patterns that emerge. And if you are looking for help know that reading alone won’t get you help but with some action you will heal where you need to heal.

Knowledge is power; another cliché but it’s true. It saved me.

Another thing to note is that the clichés are true, you may have gathered that by now. Sometimes it actually is just that simple!

(Twitter: @phenomenalladyT ; Instagram: @thembie_r )


Thembi is now a trained Friendship Bench peer counsellor, if you can relate to what she has spoken of here, know you aren’t alone and reach out for help.

Unearthing Perseverance

A TESTIMONIAL

How a Youth Friendship Bench Client found himself again after becoming lost in grief, loneliness, pain and hopelessness.

l started to see that we tend to live in our yesterday rather than the today of our lives. So even when we have joy and fulfilment, we will not be able to identify it because we are still stuck in the agony of our past.

Youth Bench Client

The problem with grief is that it often doesn’t completely go away. The loss of someone you have loved deeply seems to live on in your heart, your mind, you every-day actions. I carry this indescribable, inconsolable little hole that catches me off guard as I think ‘something is missing, there’s an emptiness inside of me’. I think the hole is loneliness or at least the feeling of being alone, I can’t wrap my head around it but I get lost in it.

I became an orphan early, I lost my mother when I was 5 years old and l never knew my father, he passed away before l was born. I was forced to grow up fast after being placed in the guardianship of my aunt. Yes, family took me in so I had support and love but it’s not the same as that from biological parents, I could see that when I looked at others. My aunt and uncle gave me an education and l became aware of my the importance of knowledge and learning. I started to lay out my dreams, having goals to sustain myself and living life under my own terms. But, my education and dreams were affected by my weak immune system, l would always fall sick, not go to school, and as l thought l have faced it all, l had a stroke at a very young age.

This resulted in me losing a lot of valuable time, time l should have been sitting in school, gaining knowledge and skills, making strong friendships and working on my goals. What affected me the most was watching my friends move on, getting on with their education, starting to chase their dreams by going overseas; and I was nowhere, I felt stuck, stuck with nothing and nowhere, it made me hate myself. My girlfriend started to act up, she was someone I had always confided in and so this hurt a lot. In all these times l started to wish if only my parents were here. My mind started to tell me things l never wanted to hear, l was alone and failing at life, I had no one to talk to, I should forget about my dreams. I felt lost, I had no self-esteem, I lost my tenacity and energy for chasing goals. It was easy to think why not end I all.

Then a friend who knew about the Friendship Bench approached me, she said she could see I wasn’t managing and suggested I book an online talk therapy session. I had nothing to lose, I signed up and met Youth Bench Buddy Dellone, a young gentleman like me, it was comforting to have a peer, someone who I could relate to rather than an adult, and he welcomed me.

I told him my story as it is and how l was feeling. By simply knowing that there is someone l am talking to who is there listening to me work through and do away with some of the tensions of this loneliness. The feeling of being alone had always overcast my conscience and would stop me thinking straight.

Having the Friendship Bench Youth Buddy there helped me look at my goals again, he showed me how to take steps to keep going and rediscover my dreams, he encouraged me to not give up but to see I was more than loneliness.

I started to realise that l let my past have power over my future, l had jammed my life in other people’s projections of theirs and l entrusted my happiness in other people’s hands; my parents, my family, my girlfriend and my peers. In other words, l was stuck in other people’s lives, crying foul over my past and stopped living my own life. I had to get back on it. The way he asked me about certain things l would have stated in my story made me question myself on why l even felt that way.

Together, we unearthed my perseverance. He shared something with me that l continuously tell myself every day, he said that, you will never know how strong you are until something almost breaks you and knocks you to your knees. When you reach that breaking point that is when you become stronger so rather embrace the problems that seem to be breaking you and see them as a pedestal of hope for the greater good. This is how l started to view my world.

Through the working solutions l had picked up in overcoming my loneliness and stunted growth, l started to see that we tend to live in our yesterday rather than the today of our lives. So even when we have joy and fulfilment, we will not be able to identify it because we are still stuck in the agony of our past. For this l thank my friend for she referred me to the Friendship Bench and I thank the Youth Friendship Bench for the support and encouragement that has helped me regain my resilience.

IN A GOMBA

SHONA for “A DEEP HOLE”

When a teenage girl wears black and veils her pain with sardonic smiles and sarcastic tone of “hi, ya I’m great you know, never been better”.. one has to know that all is not well. If you haven’t picked up on the sarcasm or inconsistent body language it could prove to be a complicated back tracking session. First impressions matter and we go nowhere without building a level of rapport, a time to show we have heard the undertones without being accusatory about it.

Monica* seemed to be fighting more than one battle… her inner struggles and the one that comes with seeking help; opening up to someone and being vulnerable, talking about deep struggles, to who, for what, what if they go talk about me afterwards, what if when I open up I lose my power, I become broken and open and empty and can’t pull myself together, what if…

“I heard you offer counselling? I don’t need it but I came here for the experience and to get my friend off my back.” Monica was resolute, and if you did not look into her eyes you would think all was well, she was together on the outside, well presented, exuding confidence and determination, not a stammer or self-conscious tone in her voice.

There was however an internal conflict happening; I’m here- but I don’t need to be here- but my friend thinks I should- I’m strong- I need my friend to leave me alone so I’ll do this to please her… It’s complex, there’s a lot of voices that come behind someone’s wall, understandably so.

“I know I have issues but nobody is perfect. You also have your share of bad days. You tell me some of your issues then I’ll know you are for real.”

It took awhile but Monica opened up, inside her wall, so delicately and intricately build was oblivion, a deep dark empty hole; she called it a gomba.

“People know me for being intelligent, argumentative, introverted, classy, beautiful and bold, I have this facade to keep up, I can’t imagine if people knew the truth… I have to be this ‘Monica’ to hide all the rest I have such shame over, the real Monica underneath it all. No one knows my father is verbally abusive, or that my first and only boyfriend raped me, or that my family is struggling financially. When I look around me all I find is a judgmental friend, an abusive father, a weak mother and a pervert boyfriend. I have so much rage in me and I find I love it, I love lashing out at people, it makes me feel in control, it lets them know I am independent and need no one.

During our sessions on the Friendship Bench Monica realised she could have a power and strength different from the rage that would be explosive, coming out uncontrolled and misdirected.

Monica began to talk about her father, seeing that he wasn’t entirely abusive, she connected the financial struggle with his moody outbursts, she laughed and said maybe she got if from him. One of Monica’s goals was to work on her relationship with him, to try talk more and express how his language affects her. Her weak mother was to be a strong woman of her own right, it occured to Monica that sometimes it takes more to keep quiet rather than engage in an argument in which there will be no winner. Her boyfriend of many years was to be confronted for the crime he committed, their relationship was not fulfilling, the baggage of the past wasn’t what Monica wanted, she had had enough of her gomba.

* Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

Tendai’s* Covid-19, Experience on the Front Lines

A COVID-19 SUCCESS STORY

“Being confined brought a lonely feeling inside me, that when I let it all out to someone who was ready to listen;

I felt a sense of relief. “

Tendai*, Friendship Bench Client

My name is Tendai*. I’m a middle-aged female residing in the city of Harare, Zimbabwe. I work in the health field at a private facility.

I was going through a period where I was overwhelmed with anxiety and paranoia. As a result of working in the medical/health field, I had been openly and directly exposed to the COVID – 19 virus at its onset in Zimbabwe. A few of my colleagues and I had to stop working and go into quarantine and isolation in our own homes after going through the screening process. I was forced to stay away from my family and my children for two weeks as I could not leave my room. It broke my heart to have to hear my youngest daughter cry for me at the door and not be able to do anything about it. Every single day, health professionals from the ministry would come and check on me, dressed and protected. I felt like the contagion itself. My temperature was said to be high by the screening officials which increased my anxiety. I had no meaningful interaction with anyone at all so I was forced to make do with my racing thoughts for two weeks.

After having been cleared of the virus by the Ministry of Health, I was then allowed to exit self-quarantine. You would think the decision made my days easier but after the restrictions on me were lifted, I was so confused and anxious. Everything to me felt like it could be potentially dangerous, being around people made me anxious, letting my children play outside made me anxious. Seeing one of my family members constantly going out the house would really make me upset. I was paranoid about everything my children and family touched. My obsession with sterility became unhealthy, and fortunately that’s when I came across the friendship bench advertisement. I reached out to The Friendship Bench after seeing a social media advertisement of their free counselling service offered on an Open Like Talk Therapy platform.

I began my sessions shortly after booking on the Friendship Bench platform. In my sessions, i was allowed the platform to fully explain my feelings and what I was going through without judgement.

Firstly, what I found to be most helpful was just being able to let some things out before you even get help in handling the problem. Being confined brought a lonely feeling inside me, that when I let it all out to someone who was ready to listen; I felt a sense of relief. The constant check up as well really helped me as I realized someone was there to make sure I was improving and feeling better.

My fears of contracting the virus were gradually eradicated as I got encouragement to do my best in making sure I follow the measures put in place to protect my family and I regardless of the fact that one family member was not adhering to those measures. The guidance and encouragement I got about focusing on things that I can control was also extremely helpful in reducing my anxiety. I then realised some things are out of my control and I cannot change them. Worrying about it would not help at all as it would just bring me more problems.

*Names have been changed to protect and respect the privacy of the contributing author.


DO YOU NEED TO TALK?

Should you or someone you know relate to Tendai’s story and need to talk, the Friendship Bench Open Line team is here to support you.


FREE TOOLS TO MANAGE ANXIETY

We set up some worksheets to help people who may be struggling to manage with their anxiety during this global pandemic.

If you would like to learn how to build resilience, become more grounded and find some peace in the storm you can download the exercises for free from our website.

Tools To Thrive
https://www.friendshipbenchzimbabwe.org/tools-to-thrive

Till next time!

Stay safe, wash hands, create safe spaces for people to talk. We all need a sense of belonging, it doesn’t cost anything by empathy and time.

Loneliness, A Bodily Function

A PERSPECTIVE

Loneliness is a universal human emotion that is both complex and unique to each individual, if you feel lonely you are lonely. Whether you are a shy person, an extrovert, single, or in a relationship we can all feel lonely. Money, fame, power, beauty, social skills, a great personality, nothing can protect us against loneliness because it’s in our biology.

Loneliness is a bodily function like hunger; just how hunger makes us pay attention to our physical needs, loneliness makes us pay attention to our social needs. Millions of years ago our survival depended on being part of a group, forming relationships and collaborating with others to achieve goals such as hunting for food and gathering fire wood to keep warm, this is when it became part of our biology.

Our body cares about our social needs because it wants to avoid social pain, this is the pain that comes from feelings of isolation, rejection or abandonment. Pain of this kind is an early warning system to get us to focus on our social needs.

As the world has developed, populations have grown, small towns have become large cities we more and more have lost touch with human connections and close relationships. Large numbers of people have had to migrate for work and school, migration has broken families apart, we sit behind phone screens showing people what we feel will impress them so we get enough likes to build our self-esteem to enable us to feel socially accepted, we escape reality by getting lost in cyber worlds playing games with people we have never met. As the world’s population grows there has become more competition for jobs and school places, this means longer working hours as people try to stay ahead of the game so to speak, but in the process become isolated from the world outside of the formal institution where we are playing roles, conforming to titles and carrying out duties prescribed to us.

For some people, the more time we spend on our own the harder it becomes to go out and connect with others, we find ourselves feeling anxious and would rather avoid those feelings, so begins a vicious self-sustaining cycle. The effects of social pain (loneliness) can develop into actual physical symptoms, such as headaches and sore stomachs which re-enforce our need to stay home or away from people. This can lead us to become more self-centred as we try protect ourselves from the physical pains. People may begin to interpret this as being unfriendly, cold or arrogant and so they start staying away from us which furthers our sense of  loneliness and gives us evidence that we aren’t liked and don’t belong, so our self-esteem drops and we develop more defence mechanisms and coping strategies (such as drug and alcohol use).

Long-term loneliness can put us at risk of physical conditions such as heart attacks, stroke and high blood pressure but importantly it can also be the trigger or result in mental health problems.

How loneliness can show its presence

Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but long periods of loneliness or social isolation can have a negative impact on our physical, mental and social health. Some signs include:

  • Physical symptoms – aches and pains, headaches, illness or worsening of already existing medical conditions
  • Negative feelings – feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or thoughts about suicide
  • Mental health risk – increased risk of depression, anxiety, panic attacks
  • Low energy – tiredness or lack of motivation
  • Sleep problems – difficulty getting to sleep, waking frequently or sleeping too much
  • Eating problems – loss of appetite, increased appetite, sudden weight gain or loss
  • Substance use – Increased consumption of alcohol, smoking, medication or drug use

Is loneliness a mental health problem?

Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely, and long term feelings of loneliness can increases your risk of developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

WHAT TO DO

Some people experience deep and constant feelings of loneliness that come from within and do not disappear, regardless of their social situation or how many friends they have. We are living in the most connected time in human history and yet great numbers of us feel isolated. Here are a few things to go through if you are struggling with loneliness;

1. Recognise that you feel lonely but know you are not alone in the experience. Know that loneliness is a feeling, don’t confuse it with thinking you are an outcast or unwanted or a loser.   

2. Get curious. Ask yourself questions. Is it situational loneliness or chronic loneliness? Have you intentionally or accidentally isolated yourself? Write down your self-deflating thoughts when it comes to loneliness. What are your loneliness habits? Do you really want to change or is loneliness serving a purpose in your life at the moment?

3. Stop comparing yourself with others or looking at others and wanting them to fix your feelings.

4. Look at the connections you already have, what is right in-front of you? Ideally, look up from your phone or computer screen.

5. Look for a volunteer programme and spend time giving back to the community.

6. Be persistent in your efforts, whether it is joining a group or seeing a friend once a week, it may seem uncomfortable and exhausting at first but don’t give in. Challenge the assumptions and feelings that tell you to give up and resign yourself to a life of loneliness, show up, be curious, have no expectations and keep asking yourself questions about the experiences you have.   

7. See loneliness as a message from your body, it’s not intentionally trying to hurt you, it’s trying to motivate you to take a step towards connecting with others and building of friendships.

8. Talk about it. Find a mental health care service, like the Friendship Bench, or someone you feel you can trust and won’t judge you or minimise your feelings. Loneliness can sometimes come with feelings of shame and embarrassment, the more we start to talk about these feelings and why we feel them the less they control us.

Loneliness, A Bodily Function

A perspective.

Loneliness is a universal human emotion that is both complex and unique to each individual, if you feel lonely you are lonely. Whether you are a shy person, an extrovert, single, or in a relationship we can all feel lonely. Money, fame, power, beauty, social skills, a great personality, nothing can protect us against loneliness because it’s in our biology.

Loneliness is a bodily function like hunger; just how hunger makes us pay attention to our physical needs, loneliness makes us pay attention to our social needs. Millions of years ago our survival depended on being part of a group, forming relationships and collaborating with others to achieve goals such as hunting for food and gathering fire wood to keep warm, this is when it became part of our biology.

Our body cares about our social needs because it wants to avoid social pain, this is the pain that comes from feelings of isolation, rejection or abandonment. Pain of this kind is an early warning system to get us to focus on our social needs.

As the world has developed, populations have grown, small towns have become large cities we more and more have lost touch with human connections and close relationships. Large numbers of people have had to migrate for work and school, migration has broken families apart, we sit behind phone screens showing people what we feel will impress them so we get enough likes to build our self-esteem to enable us to feel socially accepted, we escape reality by getting lost in cyber worlds playing games with people we have never met. As the world’s population grows there has become more competition for jobs and school places, this means longer working hours as people try to stay ahead of the game so to speak, but in the process become isolated from the world outside of the formal institution where we are playing roles, conforming to titles and carrying out duties prescribed to us.

For some people, the more time we spend on our own the harder it becomes to go out and connect with others, we find ourselves feeling anxious and would rather avoid those feelings, so begins a vicious self-sustaining cycle. The effects of social pain (loneliness) can develop into actual physical symptoms, such as headaches and sore stomachs which re-enforce our need to stay home or away from people. This can lead us to become more self-centred as we try protect ourselves from the physical pains. People may begin to interpret this as being unfriendly, cold or arrogant and so they start staying away from us which furthers our sense of  loneliness and gives us evidence that we aren’t liked and don’t belong, so our self-esteem drops and we develop more defence mechanisms and coping strategies (such as drug and alcohol use).

Long-term loneliness can put us at risk of physical conditions such as heart attacks, stroke and high blood pressure but importantly it can also be the trigger or result in mental health problems.

How loneliness can show its presence

Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but long periods of loneliness or social isolation can have a negative impact on our physical, mental and social health. Some signs include:

  • Physical symptoms – aches and pains, headaches, illness or worsening of already existing medical conditions
  • Negative feelings – feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or thoughts about suicide
  • Mental health risk – increased risk of depression, anxiety, panic attacks
  • Low energy – tiredness or lack of motivation
  • Sleep problems – difficulty getting to sleep, waking frequently or sleeping too much
  • Eating problems – loss of appetite, increased appetite, sudden weight gain or loss
  • Substance use – Increased consumption of alcohol, smoking, medication or drug use

Is loneliness a mental health problem?

Feeling lonely isn’t in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely, and long term feelings of loneliness can increases your risk of developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

What to do

Some people experience deep and constant feelings of loneliness that come from within and do not disappear, regardless of their social situation or how many friends they have. We are living in the most connected time in human history and yet great numbers of us feel isolated. Here are a few things to go through if you are struggling with loneliness;

1. Recognise that you feel lonely but know you are not alone in the experience. Know that loneliness is a feeling, don’t confuse it with thinking you are an outcast or unwanted or a loser.   

2. Get curious. Ask yourself questions. Is it situational loneliness or chronic loneliness? Have you intentionally or accidentally isolated yourself? Write down your self-deflating thoughts when it comes to loneliness. What are your loneliness habits? Do you really want to change or is loneliness serving a purpose in your life at the moment?

3. Stop comparing yourself with others or looking at others and wanting them to fix your feelings.

4. Look at the connections you already have, what is right in-front of you? Ideally, look up from your phone or computer screen.

5. Look for a volunteer programme and spend time giving back to the community.

6. Be persistent in your efforts, whether it is joining a group or seeing a friend once a week, it may seem uncomfortable and exhausting at first but don’t give in. Challenge the assumptions and feelings that tell you to give up and resign yourself to a life of loneliness, show up, be curious, have no expectations and keep asking yourself questions about the experiences you have.   

7. See loneliness as a message from your body, it’s not intentionally trying to hurt you, it’s trying to motivate you to take a step towards connecting with others and building of friendships.

8. Talk about it. Find a mental health care service, like the Friendship Bench, or someone you feel you can trust and won’t judge you or minimise your feelings. Loneliness can sometimes come with feelings of shame and embarrassment, the more we start to talk about these feelings and why we feel them the less they control us.

Belonging

When we feel we belong, we can relax, because we know we are not alone in fighting for our survival, we are connected. And as we are part of others, others are part of us.

When we feel we belong, we can relax, because we know we are not alone in fighting for our survival, we are connected. And as we are part of others, others are part of us.

#WeNeedOthers #OthersNeedUs #Community

Community Volunteerting

For so long as we do nothing for others we are contributing to the undoing of ourselves.

When we already feel like there are not enough hours in the day and we just manage to survive on our pay cheques when the word ‘volunteer’ comes up we think “why on earth should I go and spend my only free time volunteering for nothing?”

Why… because the benefits of volunteering can be immeasurable. Volunteering offers vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes, and the community (maybe your own community), but the benefits can be even greater for you, the volunteer.

Giving to others can help protect our mental and physical health. It can reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose. While it’s true that the more you volunteer, the more benefits you’ll experience, volunteering doesn’t have to involve a long-term commitment or take a huge amount of time out of your busy day. Giving in even simple ways can help those in need and improve your health and happiness.

LET’S BREAK IT DOWN

An ‘A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H’ list of why we should volunteer.

A LEARNING ROAD: If you choose to work in a community outside of your own you will learn different things about people, behaviours, cultures and more. Allowing yourself to be taught by people who come from a different background and who have different ideas to those you live by will lead to your personal and professional growth. These are lessons that can’t come out of text books, they must be lived at their root.

BUILD CONFIDENCE: Volunteering may allow you to try something new or perhaps discover some hidden talents. This can be a great self-esteem and confidence booster. Your role and contributions as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity, perhaps you will discover you have found a sense of belonging. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.

CONNECT: Volunteering in community activities is a great way to connect with those around you and meet new people. While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and have a hard time meeting new people. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you are meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests. Once you have started to developed your self-confidence it’s easier to branch out and make more friends and contacts!

DEVELOP PURPOSE: When we do good for others it provides a natural sense of accomplishment which feeds into our sense of purpose, especially in times of depression or stress when we are wondering why we were put on this earth. It can boost your mood even on the toughest days. Whatever your age or life situation, volunteering can help take your mind off your own worries, keep you mentally stimulated, and add a new dimension to your life.

EXAMPLE ASSOCIATION: By giving back to the community, you are showing people, especially the younger generations, how volunteering makes a difference and how good it is physically, mentally and emotionally to give back. You can inspire your friends, children, students, or even a stranger by helping others and sharing the experience with them of why you do it.

FUN & FULFILMENT: No explanation necessary!

GAIN EXPERIENCE: If you’re considering a new career or are wondering what to study, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and meet people in the field. If you are just launching into your work career and job hunting, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first.

HEALTHY MIND & BODY: Volunteering can help you both physically and mentally. Perhaps you spend the afternoon doing yard work for an elderly couple or you guide a student with their reading in the library, every good deed is beneficial. Volunteer activities can get you moving and thinking!

“Wherever you turn, you can find someone who needs you. Even if it is a little thing, do something for which there is no pay but the privilege of doing it. Remember, you don’t live in the world all of your own.”

~Albert Schweitzer

THE EVIDENCE

There is lots of evidence that volunteering has a positive impact on health. We like this paper because it has examined the cumulative effects on multiple health outcomes in the general adult public (mental and physical health, life satisfaction, social well-being and depression).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504679/

Isn’t it a true happiness to help others? If you are struggling to answer this question then you need to discover this feeling for yourself.

If you are finding yourself in a rut and looking around waiting for change, take the initiative and be the change that you need, for so long as we do nothing for others we are contributing to the undoing of ourselves.