Tackling Loneliness Through Letter-Writing

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Last week was Loneliness Awareness Week. I saw lots of posts about loneliness on social media, and some of the stats and information I read really shocked me.

There’s no doubt that loneliness is a huge problem – especially in our ageing population. However, what took me by surprise is that individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 actually report the highest rates of loneliness. Up to 40% of individuals in this age group have reported feeling lonely often or very often. There’s no doubt that these statistics will have gotten worse during the pandemic.

This got me thinking… What can we, at Brain-Based, do to help?

As someone who enjoys writing, journaling, and creating things, letter-writing came to mind. When receiving a letter in the post, you know that someone is thinking of you, wants to talk to you and took the time to reach out – and this feels more meaningful than a text message or email.

So, as a slightly late Loneliness Awareness Week article, I figured I would use this space to discuss loneliness. What does it mean? Why does it happen? And of course, how can you help yourself and others to tackle loneliness?

What does it mean to be lonely?

Loneliness is a state of mind which involves feeling lonely more than once a week. Feeling lonely does not necessarily mean the person is alone, rather they feel alone and isolated.

Loneliness is complex and unique to each person. It has no single or universal cause. Contributing factors of loneliness include physical isolation, divorce, death of a loved one, or moving to a new location. Internal factors, such as low self-esteem, can also contribute to loneliness. Loneliness can also be a symptom of a psychological disorder, such as depression.

Research has shown that high levels of loneliness are associated with physical health symptoms, living alone, small social networks, and low-quality social relationships. Additionally, lonelier adults get less exercise, have diets higher in fat, have less efficient sleep, and report more daytime fatigue.

Additionally, loneliness can be contagious. A 10-year study showed that people close to someone experiencing loneliness were 52% more likely to become lonely as well.

Tips to prevent and overcome loneliness

  • Stay in touch with your family and friends. If you cannot see them in person, phone calls or emails can help you to feel connected.
  • Volunteer in your community. Volunteering will allow you to meet new people whilst making you feel like you are a part of something important.
  • Join a group/club. This could be a sports club or a book club. Joining a group of people with similar interests will allow you to talk about and share things that you enjoy.
  • Expect the best. Focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships, rather than expecting rejection.
  • Focus on developing quality relationships. Seek and spend time with people who share similar values, attitudes, and interests to you.
  • Change your perceptions. Realize that sometimes people aren’t able to meet up with you, not because there is something inherently wrong with you, but because of other things going on in their lives.
  • Get help from a mental health charity. If you’re based in the UK, you could use the following link: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/nhs-voluntary-charity-services/charity-and-voluntary-services/get-help-from-mental-health-helplines/

Letter-writing to tackle loneliness

Numerous organisations have been created to tackle loneliness, such as through letter-writing. Letter-writing can involve writing to a specific person, writing about a certain topic, or just writing to cheer someone up in general.

Through my research, I have found numerous initiatives, around the world, that one can easily take part in. Whether you want to write one letter, or 30, there are many options to pick from.

Here is a list of initiatives that you can write to, through either physical or virtual letters. Pick an initiative that you would like to support, check their letter requirements, and get writing!

 UK-BASED:

Postpals https://www.postpals.co.uk/
– Supporting kids with terminal illnesses or frequent hospitalisations
– Can send cards or gifts

Donate a letter https://www.frommetoyouletters.co.uk/donate-a-letter
– UK-based letter writing to fight the loneliness associated with cancer

Age-UK https://www.ageuk.org.uk/sutton/get-involved/letters-of-joy/
– UK-based initiative to write to care homes

Letters against loneliness https://thewallich.com/letters-against-loneliness-isolation/
– Wales-based initiative writing to service users in homelessness hostels and accommodations

The write partnership https://www.ageuk.org.uk/tunbridgewells/our-services/the-write-partnership/
– Befriending service for the elderly
– 2 monthly letters, or can sign up for weekly telephone calls

My dear new friend UK https://wordsforlife.org.uk/activities/make-friends-my-dear-new-friend/
– Initiative for children to write letters to their local elderly homes

USA/CANADA-BASED:

More love letters http://www.moreloveletters.com/the-letter-requests
– Individuals who are lonely or having a particularly hard time are nominated each month, and you can write to them during that time. Nominees change every few weeks.

Braid mission https://braidmission.org/get-involved/cards-of-hope/
– Letter writing to children in foster care. Primarily involves writing birthday cards, or cards of encouragement, for kids who often do not receive any birthday cards.

The letter project https://www.toloveourselves.com/
– Involves supporting young girls who are struggling with mental health or confidence, through words of encouragement.

Lifelinehttps://lifelines-uk.org.uk/
– Support and befriend prisoners on death-row in the USA.

VIRTUAL INITIATIVES:

Letters to strangers https://www.letterstostrangers.org/
– Involves sending a letter to a stranger, and receiving a letter back, to destigmatise mental illness.

The crisis project https://www.thecrisisproject.com/
– Involves sending virtual letters to the elderly or essential workers at the NHS (UK).

Letters of love https://letters-of-love.org/letters.html
– Involves sending virtual letters to refugee children in different countries.

Stay Gold – happy holiday mail https://staygoldsociety.org/holiday-happymail/
– Involves writing holiday cards to the elderly.

If you have any questions about letter-writing please leave a comment, or DM us on Instagram @brainbased_info. Also, if you know of any other similar initiatives that we could support, please tell us in the comments! Make sure to share this article with anyone that you think would be interested in taking part!

Featured photo by Marina Shatskih, Pexels.

Sources:
– https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749
– https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-does-loneliness-look-like-in-the-brain
– https://www.homeinstead.co.uk/care-advice-support/age-well/prevent-loneliness/

Edited by Cyrus Rohani-Shukla

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