To mark Mental Health Awareness week's #ivebeenthere campaign, our colleague, Rachael, shares her story on how she coped when she experienced a period of loneliness.

What do you think contributed to you feeling lonely?

A few years ago, it would have been hard for me to imagine myself as someone suffering from loneliness in the near future. Even now, it's hard to reconcile being lonely with being married, a mother, a busy professional and a part time postgraduate student. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way of life for many people, and it was a definite contributing factor to my feelings of loneliness, but at around the same time that we were all locked down my partner was also deployed (he's a Royal Navy officer, specifically a submariner) and wouldn't be returning for nine months. I was pregnant, working from home and living alone at a time when socialising with people from outside of your household was against the rules and I started experiencing some of the symptoms of loneliness.

What symptoms/ feelings/ behaviours were you experiencing?

For me, loneliness has manifested in a few different ways. I have felt super stressed, every little thing would irritate me, which would make me withdraw from conversations even more as I felt like everything was upsetting me and causing an overreaction. During periods of loneliness, I would binge-read books and watch a lot of television, even more than what could be considered normal, just to escape my own negative thoughts and the reality of my situation. More recently, I have felt socially anxious, not wanting to leave the house or see other people, I was nervous about even walking the five minutes to drop my daughter off at nursery.

How did you manage the loneliness? Did you seek support from others?

In the end, due to my stress levels and pregnancy, I was signed off work for about a month. This ended up being the turning point for me to realise I needed to make a change and so I turned to my mum for support. Having meaningful conversations and interactions regularly was so important for my mental health, when you're busy with work and speaking to colleagues all day it can be easy to think you're not affected by loneliness and attribute your symptoms to something else. My mum is now my support system whenever my partner is absent, and usually when he's here too, and I'm not ashamed to say I speak to or see her almost every day.

What advice would you give others who may be experiencing loneliness or someone who may be worried about a friend/ colleague/ loved one who they feel is lonely?

My advice would be to establish your own support system, this can be one person or a few, that you can count on for personal chats or in-person catch ups on a regular basis, especially if you live alone. Also, don't become complacent and remain vigilant in spotting the symptoms of loneliness. My partner was recently deployed again and all it took was three days of forgetting to check in with my mum for the negative thoughts to strike. If you think a friend or loved one is struggling with loneliness I would suggest, if possible, being part of that support system for them and if you can spare a few phone calls or visits a week then that can go a long way. Feeling disconnected from other people can have an impact on your physical health, as well as your mental health, so don't discount the potential harm of loneliness!


Rachael Lang

People Engagement Administrator