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Loneliness Connects Us All – part two

In part two of her blog series, Amanda from the Co-operative College looks at what solutions and suggestions came out of the launch event and how these can be put into practice to tackle the growing problem of young people feeling isolated and alone.

Talking about loneliness…

It has already been know that Britain has been shown to fare less well than other wealthy countries in terms of happiness, based on a study carried out ten years ago, but this is not uniform across the country, as some areas were very positive about friendships and communities. The researchers emphasised that it is important to get the message across that loneliness exists and we need to talk about it without shame – it’s a real thing that’s painful, but it’s not the worst thing, it won’t go on forever and it can end. The reason why it’s so important to focus on young people is that this is very much a ‘first time’ nature of their experiences and they don’t know how to get through it, it may be the result of a transitional moment of their lives where they feel that they ‘can’t keep running to mummy and daddy’ feeling that society pushes you to stand on your own two feet.

The report on the social conditions that can lead to loneliness identified issues that are all parts of a system that individuals aren’t in control of, such as:

  • Poverty
  • Isolation
  • Stigmatised or distant places
  • Socially conservative communities
  • The cost of aspiration

The physical effect of loneliness…

The whole idea of calling the report ‘loneliness connects us’ is acknowledging that it exists and that everybody will experience it at some point in their lives. It also encourages us to look at how young people deal with a rupture in their lives and the idea that loneliness can spread through communities. It has been proven that loneliness can have a physical effect on people, narrowing perception and decreasing serotonin that can be self-perpetuating. Another issue identified was that of social media ‘lurking’, where people are vicariously online in a world where you can compare yourself to everyone online where people often only post positive things. Social media can often be blamed as a culprit, but it is how we use social media and online space that is important. Online friendship and spaces can be really useful spaces for people to make connections.

One of the key tools of the project was to use theatre as this demands participants to dig within themselves. It takes the common themes from all of the young people’s experiences and turns it into something young people can relate to. Switching between performance and discussion to give different perspectives of loneliness and intimate relationships. In this way young people were brought together to take part in an immersive and interactive performance piece, ‘Missing’. Participants take on the role of trainee police officers who are presented with evidence about a missing teenager through film and actors. This approach was used as it is so hard to talk about loneliness, but by using this technique young people are encouraged to investigate the multiple aspects of loneliness in a supported and guided simulation that provides a ‘safe’ space to tackle the issues.

Projects to Tackle Loneliness

The second section of the day gave everyone the opportunity to take part in presentations from a range of youth projects. My first conversation was with Fresh R&B, a social enterprise based in Miles Platting that runs video production workshops and produces films purposefully designed to bridge research with engagement & reduce loneliness. I then had an interesting discussion with the Barnardo’s leaving care project, a peer-led support group for people leaving care so that they can overcome issues such as isolation and push for changes to the support they receive from their local authority and housing organisations to make it easier for care leavers to become independent. I also spoke to Off the Record, a mental health social movement by and for young people aged 11-25 living in Bristol and South Gloucestershire and the Proud Trust, the Manchester-based LGBT+ youth organisation. It was great to get an idea of the range of support and services on offer for young people, particularly as these were youth-led.

The remainder of the afternoon session was spent imagining scenarios using cards with given characters, situations and spaces to think about creating a story where a young person may be experiencing loneliness and to think of different ways in which they may be able to overcome this, or get help to overcome this.

The Future

The aim of this session was to create a range of different practical and creative strategies for reducing youth loneliness to come up with potential ways to counter not only their current experience of loneliness, but also to suggest preventative measures. This way, these recommendations and actions can be taken forwards as part of the research to develop better services for young people.

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