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Your spotlight on local services

Blog: Tackling loneliness is everyone’s responsibility; not just the lonely person’s.


‘Look, if you need to chat, just call.’

‘I’m here any time. Honestly, all you need to do is pick up the phone.’

‘I’m literally three doors down the road. You’re welcome any time. Just pop over – really, it’s no trouble at all.’

How many times have we said these things to a friend, neighbour, or colleague who’s having a hard time? Probably quite a few. How many times have we heard them ourselves? Again, probably quite a few.

And how many times, when you’ve felt low yourself, have you actually acted on them? Probably not many.

I’m not trying to throw scorn on people’s well-meant and genuine extensions of hospitality, friendship and a listening ear – they are such a welcome thing to hear in that moment when everything is overwhelming and you’re struggling to see a way even five minutes into the future. But the reality, in my experience at least, is that the moment that a person most needs that connection is probably the moment when they are least likely to ask for it. Why? Because the demons swoop in and they tell you that you’re a nuisance, that they were just being nice, that they’ll be busy and you shouldn’t bother them, that you’ll be in the way. So you’re more likely to put down the phone, retreat even further, numb the pain with Netflix or comfort food, and hope the feeling passes.

When a friend of mine lost her dad in late 2020, I was keen to make sure I told her I was there for her any time she needed me, for whatever it was she needed. Listening to a podcast on how to support someone through grief a few days later, I was a little abashed to discover that while it’s good to remind people that you’re there for them, you also need to do the reaching out yourself. Don’t just tell people they can get in touch, actively check-in. So instead of waiting for her to contact me, every few days I sent her a message to ask how she was doing. I carried on sending her the odd silly meme. I asked if she wanted to have a catch up on Zoom. The result is that, within our friendship group, she has felt more able to be open about her experience of grief; it isn’t something that gets swept under the carpet whenever we meet, but instead it’s openly acknowledged as something that she’s dealing with.

This principle doesn’t just apply to people who are grieving, but across the board. If you know of someone who is experiencing loneliness or a mental health issue, it’s good to make sure they know you’re there for them – but follow it up with action. It takes a certain level of guts, but why do we insist on putting the responsibility for the act of courage on the person who is already struggling? I think sometimes we’re afraid of not knowing what we’re getting into, but so often taking that step leads to a more enriching experience all round than just quietly plodding on with our lives, pretending something isn’t there.

So my call to action is this: send the message. Ask that someone how they’re doing. Tell them you’ve just put the kettle on, and ask if they fancy a cuppa. It’s the little things we do that have the greatest impact.

If you’re experiencing loneliness or struggling with your mental health, you can call the following numbers or sign up via the following websites for free and friendly support from people who are happy to listen:

Samaritans: 116 123. To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

7 Cups of Tea: Newbie Hub & Online Community - 7Cups

The Mix. If you're under 25, you can call The Mix on 0808 808 4994 (3pm–midnight every day)

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). You can call the CALM on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm–midnight every day) if you are struggling and need to talk. 

SANEline. If you're experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day).



Healthwatch Barking and Dagenham
Lifeline House
25 Neville Road
Dagenham, Essex RM8 3QS