Civil Service

https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2019/06/13/talking-about-loneliness/

Talking about loneliness

Group photo of members of the Tackling Loneliness Strategy Team
The Tackling Loneliness Strategy Team

We will all experience loneliness at some point in our lives, but research shows most of us won’t talk about it. We need to change this.

Loneliness is an emotion that comes with being human. We want to say, it’s OK to feel lonely.

We are running the Let’s Talk Loneliness campaign for Loneliness Awareness Week, from 17 to 21 June. We think everyone has a part to play in sharing our message.

If you want to join the campaign or learn more about loneliness, visit our website: https://letstalkloneliness.co.uk. This will go live from Monday 17 June, but if you represent an organisation that is interested in supporting the campaign, you can go there now to provide your details.

From Monday, the website will host videos, blogs and a toolkit, and will be the home for further action for the campaign.

Tackling loneliness in the workplace

The Civil Service has signed up to the ‘Employer Pledge’ to tackle loneliness in the workplace, following the publication of the government loneliness strategy in October 2018.

We recognise how the workplace can impact on our sense of loneliness or connections.

We want our workplace to be a supportive and open environment. We want a workplace characterised by trust; by sharing and positive relationships that help people to feel less lonely or isolated.

To understand what this means in practice, we need leadership, good line management, communication and employee confidence in the pledge. And we need support between colleagues. We can offer each other support in everyday moments, and we can look out for teammates when they experience big life changes, like moving home, becoming a parent, or taking on caring responsibilities.

Our loneliness toolkit provides a range of campaign tools and helpful information to help organisations address employee wellbeing. You can find:

  • key messaging
  • ways to support the campaign
  • logo and brand guidelines
  • posters
  • social media posts
  • FAQs

How does loneliness feel?

While everyone’s experience of loneliness is different, Caroline Feltham, from DCMS, and Cecilia Da Forno, from Cabinet Office, share their personal thoughts and experiences of loneliness.

Caroline’s story

Portrait photo of Caroline Feltham
Caroline Feltham

It wasn’t until I (finally) moved out of my parents’ house that I truly understood what it means when folks say silence can be loud. It screams.

Having my own place was amazing, at first. I could play music as loud as I wanted; leave the plates as long as I could stand it; tidy, when I was so inclined – after all, no one was coming over.

I didn’t notice him on the first day, nor hear his voice on the second. But by the end of the first month of living alone, he’d made himself at home – Loneliness, my best worst friend. Shortly followed by his best friend (not mine), Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO).

Loneliness doesn’t have to stay. There are ways to break its spell. You need to accept that folks aren’t ignoring you. They are caught in their own dance, just to different music. Technology gives us opportunities to reach across great divides and make a connection.

But technology also tricks us, lulls us into a false state of pride, confuses many ‘likes’ and Facebook friends for real connection and human contact.

So, my advice is to ditch the screen, raise your eyes and get involved in something you like in the real world. You never know where it might lead.

Cecilia’s story

Head and shoulders photo of Cecilia Da Forno
Cecilia Da Forno

I have recently been on an extended training course stretching over several days. While I loved the content and the opportunity, it has also been a very lonely experience. Somehow, I am not the right age or nationality, and don’t come from the right background to get the shared jokes and deploy sarcasm in quite the way the group finds acceptable. All of a sudden, I am back in the school playground, feeling excluded, invisible and useless.

The colleagues on the course are lovely people and yet the dynamics of the group mean I have to work so hard to get a scrap of belonging that, at some point during day three, I stop trying.

This experience was, thankfully, time-bound and it reminded me sharply of how much I value my current team, which is genuinely diverse, and where I feel accepted for who I am and yet encouraged to broaden my perspective. This is not about banning sense of humour or feeling afraid to ask questions or make jokes; and it is not about feeling sorry for me.

It is about paying attention to those around you, noticing if they are struggling to get involved in a conversation and perhaps not asking someone you barely know, “Where are you from?”, as your opening question, just because they look or sound “foreign”. I am sure that you can think of more creative alternatives with a little effort!  It is about remembering that most of us, most of the time, want to belong, and about creating opportunities for all of us to do so.

What happens next

The Civil Service is enabling a supportive culture that recognises the positive benefits of volunteering in addressing loneliness. Our employee discussions showed the motivation to volunteer can be influenced by personal experiences and life transitions such as becoming a parent, moving to a new place, bereavement and managing mental health conditions.

Having this motivation and a desire to be a part of a ‘collective’ experience or  community can give people a sense of joy and purpose and prevent the feelings of loneliness.

Loneliness doesn’t have to be a shameful secret or label. It can happen to anyone. Help us break the stigma by joining the conversation on Twitter – #LetsTalkLoneliness.

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5 comments

  1. Comment by Richard Small posted on

    Very thought provoking stories. Thanks to both Caroline and Cecelia for sharing.

  2. Comment by Kevin Oliver posted on

    Great blog. I can relate to all of the stories.
    People who know me see me as a happy person who couldn't possibly know what it's like to be lonely. Those that "really" know me know that's not how it is. I can say from personal experience just how easy it is to be lonely in a crowded room. I'm glad that everyone had the guts to tell their story, as it's not easy.
    It's not all about toolkits and posters. It's about smiling and talking to people. It's about appreciating people for who they are and what they do - and the way they do it.
    People who have experienced loneliness are usually the ones who come forward if they think someone else is lonely, because they realise how being lonely feels, and don't wish others to feel like it.
    So, if you're thinking about talking to someone, stop thinking and start doing. Think inclusive - always.
    You'll probably never know how much the simple things make a difference.

  3. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you to both Caroline and Cecelia for sharing with us their personal challenges.

    Certainly on our overseas platform, the FCO has sought to ensure that staff are adequately supported and do not feel alone.

  4. Comment by A Tarbuck posted on

    I felt an irony that the lead story says get out there and make personal contacts rather than social media but the end of the piece says join the talk on Twitter...
    It is all about face to face interactions, something that the workplace can help with - for example- not insisting people Skype, better to get up and walk around to talk to someone.. (getting some much needed exercise) ... creating groups for working (but not making them competitive) ...

  5. Comment by Claire Dewis posted on

    Since my husband died in February, I have never felt so lonely, even in a room full of people. It is difficult to explain why I don't want to talk to anyone, because they don't understand how I'm feeling and I don't want to be pitied, but at the same time I wish I had someone to talk to.

    I feel homesick, even when I'm in the house we shared for 18 years. The silence is so loud, as Caroline alluded to. I talk to his picture on the wall, to the wall itself (like Shirley Valentine!), I say goodbye to him when I leave the house. Even though he isn't there any more.

    I don't know what I want or how to feel less lonely. I've joined a network of other young widows and widowers (Widowed and Young) and talk to them online, and have even gone to a meet up, but I still felt lonely there, because alongside my grief I have terrible social anxiety and find it difficult to make friends. I've joined the WI.

    I am trying so hard to combat the loneliness, but having never lived on my own before I am struggling to adapt. I have lost the knack of making friends (if I ever had it) and feel awkward for other people who don't know I'm grieving and ask a simple question that might set me off in floods of tears. So it's easier to avoid people, so that I don't alienate them - it's a paradox.

    It is really helpful that the Civil Service is leading the way in talking about mental health issues, loneliness and opening up the conversation. It is hard to access support though when you don't know what you need.