Let’s tackle loneliness – together, today.

We all have different experiences of mental health. Sometimes we want to talk about it but no one listens, and sometimes we want to stay in the silence because that is the way we cope. Either way we all need support on our mental health journey.

Dimensions Group Director of Regulatory Assurance, Rhoda Iranloye blogs

As we enter mental health awareness week 2022, I reflect on how I marked it last year when I chaired a webinar with a panel of colleagues representing the organisation’s staff networks. Our focus was breaking the taboos of culture and mental health. I was surrounded by fantastic colleagues who represented the diversity within the organisation. They shared their experiences of dealing with mental illness as someone from a black and minority ethnic background, someone with a disability, someone who was gay, someone who struggled with postnatal depression and someone who struggled to admit that they struggled with mental illness as a man.

Anyone can struggle with mental illness. What came across quite powerfully during the webinar and the questions posed to the panel was that mental illness is no respecter of persons. It does not recognise your background, gender, age or any of the protected characteristics. Here at Dimensions we are committed to valuing the diversity of all our colleagues and we will value you for who you are.

Let me tell you a little bit about my experience. I come from a Nigerian heritage and a culture that does not openly acknowledge that any of us could struggle with depression, anxiety or severe mental illness such as schizophrenia.

However I have a beautiful sister who had struggled in silence with depression for years and could not speak up because of what people, family and ‘community leaders’ would say. I worked for a secondary mental health organisation at the time and I missed the signs of things unravelling until she had a breakdown and we were scared for her and for her wellbeing and waiting for the police to find her. It is hard to admit as a big sister that I did not see it coming or do something to help. How did I miss this? Had I also fallen into the traps of cultural norms? Life had happened to her: the death of a loved one, the death of her best friend, not getting that job that she was hoping for, feeling alone in the midst of a crowd, not feeling understood. The list goes on.

What did I do differently? I listened, I encouraged my parents to support her to get help. If someone has a broken leg, we support them to get surgery to fix it. What do we do if someone has a mental illness?

I picked up the phone and just listened if she needed a listening ear, I drove to her home and kept her company and sat in silence if that was what she needed. She got some help. The fog began to lift and she began to learn how to cope when life treats you hard. I am happy to say that she is in a much better place.

This year the theme of mental health awareness week is loneliness. The Mental Health Foundation says that together we can tackle loneliness and the impact that it’s having on our physical and mental health due to the pandemic. There are practical steps to address loneliness such as picking up the phone and having that conversation, meeting a friend for coffee, being kind and going the extra mile. You choose.

Last year, 1 in 20 respondents to our survey of people we support told us they felt lonely always, or most of the time. People who filled in the survey independently were somewhat more likely to report feeling lonely than those who had support to fill it in – which suggests to me that some support teams were unaware of the loneliness of the person they support. Just like, reflecting on my personal story, some families can be.

Here at Dimensions we believe strongly in supporting our colleagues and that is reflected in us being accredited as one of UK’s best workplaces for wellbeing. If one of our colleagues needs to speak to someone confidentially, they can access our Employee Assistance Programme or one of our Mental First Aiders. We also provide additional resources on wellbeing webpages available to colleagues.

So what will you do differently this week? Who will you think about? Let’s join others around the UK tackling the epidemic of loneliness and focus on good mental health for each other and the people we support.