It has been an incredibly difficult time for us all these past two years, from the Covid19 pandemic, the cost of living crisis, war in Europe, political instability here. One crisis running into the next seemingly without pause. It seems too as if we have never been more divided in ways unknown before social media . Some of us feel isolated, some even more so than usual due to the unprecedented stressors that seem to be prevalent.
The very real human consequences of these difficulties are only becoming obvious now. Peoples mental health is frayed, our isolation especially for some of us must be all the more palpable. Lots of people, myself included, have not spoken to our GPs face to face for years. Workspaces have moved online and meetings facilitated digitally. These measures were implemented originally for safety during the pandemic, but increasingly of late are remaining in place to aid convenience.
Many people enjoyed the sense of belonging and togetherness they feel from being part of a team, working together to find solutions and just chatting in the staffroom or canteen. We are a social species and we are not meant to be alone, losing these little connections we used to take for granted only enforces the loneliness of our isolations.
When we think of loneliness, often we will jump to conclusions. We assume it mostly impacts the elderly, disabled, those who face discrimination such as refugees and those with mental health conditions, and to an extent this is true. Several years ago the BBC commissioned "The Loneliness Project" a study by medical professionals, which surveyed 50,000 16-24 years old and found that their level of loneliness was on par with that of the elderly. So many transitions occur during this time; people finishing school, moving to university, out of the family home, or a new town. If they are not successful in garnering new connections, and gaining social independence it can be a struggle to ever do so.
Up to 30% of the young people surveyed said they didn't know how to make new friends and had never felt so alone. How much more desperate must their situation feel now after so much stress in such a short space of time. And the complete severing of family, social, work and education for nigh over a year.
According to the research those who experience loneliness are more likely to struggle with everyday stresses, experiencing sleep problems, depression and or anxiety. To be more prone to substance misuse and dependance, and ultimately leaving further education for good.
Sounds bad right? Well it is.
There are practical things we can do however to lessen the effect of our loneliness. For me personally, volunteering changed my life.
I joined The Archer Project straight upon my release from prison, the very day I left in fact. Its been five long years and I am happily employed here now at their social enterprise Printed by Us.
The massive change in my life was an acceptance I've come to learn, at least from my own perception and experiences. I realised that anyone who works or volunteers for an organisation such as ours, or any others for that fact who's sole existence is to help people, tend to come from a difficult background themselves. I've found that they draw people whom are also a little bit broken, recently or in their distant pasts, it draws these people together. This understanding of each other on the most basic and instinctual level, a shared understanding of traumas and pain. A need to be part of something, and help others tread the same path. To forge meaningful connections. This is surely the truest of fellowships. It connects people and breeds the genuine empathy needed to foster real change.
Volunteering changed my life, not just because it gave me something to do.
It gave me someone to be, somewhere to be. The people in that building, on both sides of the counter, are just like me.
I want to be there and they want me there, volunteering changed my life because for the first time in many years I belonged.