‘‘It’s not expected a younger person like me should suffer from loneliness’’
In Week 3 of our Loneliness campaign with Action Mental Health, we shine a light on young peoples’ battle with loneliness.
Anna Harvey is an articulate young woman with a supportive family who once competed nationally as a gymnast. She was studying for her A-levels and had great friends too. But just a few years ago, the 22-year-old felt so low she made an attempt on her life.
She ended up in hospital, receiving emergency psychiatric care and was released after a couple of weeks, unsure of what to do next.
Unable to attend school to finish her A-levels she felt isolated, excluded and lonely.
But then she was told about Action Mental Health, and ever since, Anna has begun, slowly but surely, to regain her life and look to the future with renewed positivity.
Anna can’t pin down any one defining thing that prompted her mental health issues, which surfaced at around the age of 15 or 16. But once caught in the maelstrom of anxiety and depression her studies began to suffer.
Anna commenced her A-levels but just as she was about to take her end of year exams in lower sixth she became very unwell. Despite her desire to resume her studies, circumstances prevented her from doing so.
Feeling isolated from the daily buzz of school life she was overwhelmed by loneliness and its grip was relentless.
‘‘I felt it very unjust that I wasn’t able to return to school and when I left I felt extremely out of the loop and so excluded but I didn’t know if half of it was in my own head. That was a very lonely time for me.
‘‘I was lucky because I have a great family and a great group of friends from school but despite that I still felt real loneliness. It’s hard to describe, but it makes you feel like an imposter, like I shouldn’t have felt like this at my age. That’s why loneliness can become so insidious, and while it’s well-documented that old people suffer from loneliness, it’s not so much expected that a younger person like me should suffer from loneliness.’’
Reflecting on the glut of information technology that keeps the younger generation connected today, she said: ‘‘It’s almost a bit of a paradox really: we have the most access to means of communication, compared to old people, but it’s mostly going the opposite way.’’
Anna wasn’t physically alone, living with her parents, brother and sister, but when her mental state was in a state of tumult and uncertainty: ‘‘I pushed everyone away and the loneliness played a part in it,’’ she added.
Following her lowest point, which prompted her brief stint in emergency psychiatric care she was back at home, wondering what her next step would be, feeling aimless and lonely.
That’s when she was referred to Action Mental Health’s New Horizons.
‘‘I was a bit sceptical that it would even help me, but my first impressions were completely wrong because it has been incredibly helpful to me,’’ she said.
‘‘They put me through a number of courses and I’ve done quite a few now. I particularly enjoyed the photography course.
‘‘New Horizons also gave me the chance to do an interview with Cool FM radio for their Cash for Kids (fundraising campaign). I was petrified and my voice was shaking but I did it, and was so grateful for that opportunity.’’
Anna was later directed to Evolve, a group specially dedicated to young people, based at New Horizons Antrim, and has pushed herself to participate in activities far outside her comfort zone:
‘‘We do things to build confidence and it’s kind of like team-building and there’s a great atmosphere. The other people in the group understand, because we have all been through similar situations.
‘‘We recently went to an escape room and it was great fun. I would never have done anything like this myself – I would’ve ended up freaking out or something but doing something like this with Evolve really helps you challenge yourself and I’m sure the rest of the group must feel the same,’’ she said.
‘‘You are never judged if you have a bit of a melt down and you might have to leave for a bit. You can just come back when you are ready and there’s no walk of shame back in, like if it happened at school or work or something.’’
Today, Anna reveals she still experiences ups and downs, though now she gets the help she needs if her mood goes low.
And now learning to drive, Anna is looking forward and envisaging a time when she might return to education and ultimately work in the area of mental health.
Anna's first-hand account comes as it is often thought that the loneliest among us are the elderly. But a recent study has identified that young people are the demographic suffering most from loneliness.
In the biggest survey of its kind, 40 per cent of people aged from 16 to 24 admitted they felt lonely often, or very often – compared to just 29 per cent of 65-74 year olds and 27 per cent of those over the age of 75.
Researchers at the University of Manchester, Brunel University London, and the University of Exeter found that between the ages of 16 and 24, people experience a time of identity change and of learning to regulate emotions, which can lead to a feeling of isolation.
* The study found that those who felt the most isolated tended to have more ‘online only’ friends, on social media.
* The investigation listed five key factors of loneliness: having nobody to talk to; feeling disconnected from the world; feeling left out; sadness; and not feeling understood.
* The survey also revealed that people feel ashamed of feeling lonely, and that women were more susceptible to these feelings of shame than men. But as people get older, they are less likely to feel a sense of shame.
Pamela Qualter, Professor of Psychology at the University of Manchester, who led the study, commented: ‘‘For me, the most interesting findings relate to the stigma of loneliness and the varied solutions people had to overcome loneliness. Those findings suggest that we need to be kinder to ourselves when we feel disconnected from others.’’
The courses Anna is currently undertaking are part of New Horizons’ ‘Working it Out’ project, which is part-funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020, the Department for the Economy and the five NI Health & Social Care Trusts. New Horizons are among the many AMH projects which could benefit if you sign up to the charity’s ‘Light Up Christmas’ appeal 2019.
To request a fundraising pack contact AMH’s Fundraising Team on [email protected] or call 028 9182 8494.
Action Mental Health’s Evolve programme, delivered in partnership with Youth Action, brings together young people aged 18 to 25 to help enhance and develop their confidence, self-esteem and social interaction, through fun activities and accredited training.
**If you’re feeling low, contact your GP or community psychiatric nurse, or if you’re in crisis contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. Please always remember that help and support is available.
Stay tuned for Week 4 for our special finale features on loneliness, in which we will explore 'How to thwart loneliness' with Action Mental Health.