Why we need to talk about loneliness right now

One of the worst things about anxiety or depression can be the overwhelming feeling that you're on your own. A new 'Jo Cox Commission' aims to change that...

Mental Health Mates

One of the worst things about anxiety or depression can be the overwhelming feeling that you're on your own. A new 'Jo Cox Commission' aims to change that...

You’re lying in bed, thinking about your To Do list for the week ahead, when suddenly your throat feels thicker than normal. You’ve stopped breathing like a normal person. It’s just ‘in, out’ you tell yourself, confused at your body’s sudden bout of respiratory amnesia. ‘Come on, you’ve been doing this consistently for 29 years. You know this!’ Meanwhile, as you engage in a one-sided-conversion with your oesophagus, your chest starts feeling heavy and tight, like someone has put it in a vice and is slowly screwing it shut against your ribs. As if forgetting how to exhale wasn’t inconvenient enough, now your face has now gone cold. Ice cold, like you’ve wandered into the kitchen and dunked your head in the freezer.

Except, of course, you haven’t done that. You’re tucked up in bed trying to go to sleep. And you’re having a panic attack.

It’s thought that over a fifth of people in the UK suffer from panic attacks and anxiety. For some, that involves negative, terrifying thoughts. For others, it’s a pins-and-needles type experience, reminiscent of lying on a bed of nails while a circus act dances on your chest. In Dr Martens.

It might be a case of Freezer Head.

It could be none of the above.

But one of the most common symptoms of anxiety is the feeling of loneliness. And it’s not surprising - not only are you most likely worrying about everyone hating you and dying alone, but now your brain is playing a not-actually-all-that-funny game with you that means you’re aware that you’re behaving kind of weird – and that only serves to legitimise your fears.

Mental Health Mates

Not everybody's this happy: more than a fifth of people in the UK suffer panic attacks and anxiety

But if the above strikes a slightly painful, chest-compressing chord, then worry not. Or, at least, worry less. From today, MPs have launched a cross-party commission to tackle the 'silent epidemic' of loneliness across the UK, in honour of the murdered Jo Cox, who was in the process of establishing the commission when she was killed outside her constituency last year. The 'Jo Cox Commission' will look for practical solutions to reduce the impact of loneliness on individuals - something that's sorely needed, when recent research shows that more than a fifth of the British population privately admit that they are 'always or often lonely'. Researchers have said that loneliness raises the risk of a stroke significantly, and that it should be treated as seriously as smoking or overeating. The Commission will be working throughout 2017 'to shine a light on different aspects of loneliness and the positive steps we can all take to combat it.'

Speaking before the launch, Kim Leadbeater, Jo Cox's sister, said 'Jo was a doer, not a complainer. We want to continue that legacy by ridding society of loneliness one conversation at a time.'

3 ways to combat loneliness in the digital age

We’ve found three awesome mental health movements that you can join. So, you might feel like the world is ending and your boss is going to fire you and the friend-of-a-friend sat opposite you in the pub is texting her friend about your outfit, but you’ll also know you’re not alone. And that's a pretty big thing.

The Depressed Cake Shop

You know what makes a bad day a slightly better day? Biscuits covered in grey icing with cute little smooshed up sad faces. Aiming to end the stigma against mental health issues 'one depressed cake at a time', the DCS was founded by creative director and PR Emma Thomas in 2013. Her plan was pretty simple - all of the cakes had to be Eeyore-raincloud grey (NB: our description, not hers), although they could have a pop of colour to represent hope. Then, by organizing pop up Depressed Cake Shops around the world (think the UK, America, Europe and even India), awareness is raised – alongside money for various local mental health charities.

Mental Health Mates

Founded by the Telegraph journalist Bryony Gordon, MHM began in a park in central London after she tweeted asking if anybody else with mental health problems would like to meet up and walk and talk.

'I have OCD and over the years have also suffered from depression, bulimia and drug dependency,' explains Bryony. 'Most of this I did completely alone, just like everyone else who suffers from mental illness – because mental illness lies to you by making you feel like a freak.'

Skip forward six months, and there are now meet ups all over the country. Just turn up, make some friends, and talk openly about your experiences without fear of being judged. Easy.

Mental Health Mates

You're not alone. And that's a pretty big thing.

Green gyms

It goes against every single memory of compulsory PE lessons, but technically we all know that exercise makes us feel better – it’s the whole endorphins thing. But as happy as we like our hormones (hint: we’re thinking fourth birthday party – just after you’ve dyed your face orange with Wotsits and right before you pee yourself on the bouncy castle), it’s not always that straightforward.

Which is where Green Gyms come in – environmentally friendly and priding themselves on their social responsibility, the Gyms are less Virgin Active, more millennial-aerobics-in-your-local-park. But by working closely with mental health charity Mind, the nationwide personal training classes are trained in maximising the brain benefits of its members – as well as the physical ones.

Jo Cox Commission

MPs are launching a cross-party commission which will look for practical solutions to reduce the impact of loneliness