Today’s guest blog comes from Alexandra Henden from Changes Bristol
This week (9–15 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme is Loneliness. Loneliness can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or social-economic group. You can feel lonely when in a relationship or with a social circle around you.
Loneliness can be linked to low mental wellbeing and finding a service that can help ahead of time can give you the support you might need and help prevent mental health problems in the future.
Mental Health services in your city
Changes Bristol has been running for almost 20 years, supporting over 1,000 people a year in and around Bristol who are experiencing mental health difficulties. Over the last two years, we have seen twice as many people get in touch asking for support with loneliness and isolation being a symptom of feelings such as anxiety, depression and stress. Many of our members have reported indicators in their lives being disrupted, such as working from home, not having face-to-face interaction with others and the loss of social environments like community groups, social clubs and religious centres.
Although many of these spaces have now reopened, we continue to grow our services to offer our community different ways to meet others and speak about anything they may be going through. These range from online and in-person peer support groups to weekly walk and talk sessions in Bristol and telephone befriending for one-to-one support.
Access for specific groups of people
Due to member demand, just over a year ago, we opened weekly peer support meetings for specific groups of people; these four meetings are open exclusively for women only, men only, women of colour and anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+.
Safe spaces are vital as they provide a secure, non-judgemental and confidential space for our members with similar life experiences. These meetings for specific groups of people mean members don’t feel the need to explain their life experiences because these will be shared by the whole group, something that is important in not feeling alone.
Hannah, one of our volunteers who attends the Women of Colour group explains: “I think it’s important to have this group because it is a space where there already is some level of understanding between each other, and you don’t need to explain yourself as much”.
The stats speak for themselves in terms of the need for men to talk about their mental health. Men are three times more likely to take their lives and men aged 40–49 have the highest suicide rates in the UK. Loneliness is a key factor in this with many of our male members feeling that they can’t speak to anyone around them.
Let’s talk about Mental Health
Being a stigmatised illness mental health can be a difficult subject to broach with loved ones and having access to support services is crucial in making positive changes to wellbeing.
Peer support services that we offer at Changes Bristol are vital right now because they give people an opportunity to meet others who have similar lived experiences of mental health difficulties. This allows for spaces for people to speak about their lives, feelings and emotions in an environment that is safe, inclusive and non-judgemental. This creates a community or network of people who they can turn to for support, creating resilience, confidence and higher self-esteem in day-to-day life.
Anyone 18 or over is welcome to join any of the free services that Changes Bristol has to offer which are run by a team of highly trained volunteers who all have lived experience of mental health difficulties. Services are online, over the phone and in-person, and it is self-referral, so you don’t need a diagnosis to come along.
Changes Bristol will be running a stall at the Mental Health and Wellbeing Fair at The Galleries from 11–13 May. Come along to say hello or find out more about our mental health services on our website.