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Feeling Alone - Mental Health Month

The month of may is about raising awareness on mental health. I picked the TV show, Big Mood, to tackle the subject of loneliness when suffering from a mental health condition.


Mental health is all about our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also plays a role in how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Loneliness is a feeling of sadness or isolation. It's the state of desiring connection and feeling like we lack close relationships. We can feel lonely even when we are surrounded by people. Solitude, on the other hand, is about being alone by choice. It's a state of enjoying our own company and using that time for self-reflection, relaxation, or creativity. Solitude can be a positive experience that helps us recharge and improve our well-being.

 

How can our mental health make us feel alone?


How can our mental health make us feel alone?

There are several ways in which mental health challenges can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation:

 

Depression

Depression is a serious mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. Depression is more than just feeling temporarily sad or down. It is a persistent low mood that interferes with daily life and normal functioning. Physical symptoms like changes in sleep, energy, and appetite are also common. The most concerning symptom is suicidal ideation. Depression is caused by a complex combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. One of the core symptoms of depression is a loss of interest or pleasure in activities one used to enjoy, including socializing. This can lead to withdrawing from social connections and feeling disconnected from others.

 

The feeling of loneliness comes because there is this huge abyss between us the rest of our connection. We have no energy, will or enthusiasm to interact with others. We might feel like a burden, and we strongly believe that our loved ones are better off without us. This gap is getting bigger and bigger as we fight our demons. It becomes almost impossible to ask for help when it is everything we need. The loneliness increases with the toxic positivity that is spat on our faces. Comments like “go for a walk”, “drink water”, “take your medication”, “move on” or “take a shower, you’ll feel better” kill us as we are battling the hardest and lowest mood where we see no sign of us ever getting better.

 

To feel like ourselves again, we need people to constantly show up and support us no matter how awful we are. In Big Mood, we see Maggie who is trying to juggle her bipolar disorder and her career, friendship and family altogether. Maggie has no way of describing what is happening to her and the lithium makes her lose her words which is tragic for the writer that she is. People around her might see her as a nuisance or a toxic friend when in reality she is struggling. This bubble that closes around us become a prison where we are guilty of everything, and it is impossible to keep our connections intact.

 

Social anxiety

People who suffer from social anxiety disorder tend to avoid social situations due to intense fear and self-consciousness. This avoidance perpetuates feelings of loneliness. It manifests by answering to every invitation by the negative. Our loved ones might think we don’t want to spend time with them. But it is more insidious than that. The mental toll it put on us to face the world is immense. Going grocery shopping is a huge achievement. Public transport turn into torture, talking to stranger is a horror movie and having to navigate any problem that presents itself is agonizing. The inability to do things as simple to go for lunch or coffee with a friend isolate us and contribute to our despair.

 

Low self-esteem

Poor self-image and negative self-talk can make someone feel unworthy of companionship or believe others won't accept them, driving them to isolate. Low self-esteem refers to an overall negative evaluation or diminished opinion of one's own self-worth. The negative self-perception can show up as having a critical inner voice that amplifies flaws and weaknesses while minimizing strengths and positive qualities. Moreover, the lack of self-confidence makes us doubt our abilities, skills, and decision-making capabilities contribute us feeling insecure. Also, we can have difficulty accepting compliment which translated in dismissing or rationalizing away praise and positive feedback from others. The loneliness becomes evident through a  social withdrawal so we can avoid any situations that risk criticism, rejection or embarrassment due to feeling inadequate. The constant need for approval : Overly concerning oneself with being liked and trying hard to please others.

 

Trauma/PTSD

After trauma, some develop PTSD which can involve emotional numbing, detachment from others, and difficulty relating interpersonally - hindering intimacy. Trauma refers to a psychological, emotional response to an extremely stressful or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual's ability to cope. The traumatic event creates psychological injury by causing intense feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror. This emotional wound can have lasting negative effects on mental and physical health. PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. To be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must last more than a month and significantly impair daily functioning. PTSD develops in some people who have experienced trauma as the brain gets "stuck" in a state of heightened reactivity and fear. The development of PTSD in individuals exposed to the same traumatic experience can be influenced by a variety of factors, including biological, psychological, and social aspects. The interplay of biological, psychological, social, and situational factors can significantly affect whether a person develops PTSD after a traumatic event. Individual differences in these areas can explain why two people experiencing the same trauma can have very different psychological outcomes. So imagine having to deal with friends or family who didn’t go to the trauma in the first place, it creates an awful feeling of inequation and forced seclusion.

 

Stigma

The societal stigma around mental illness can make people hesitant to open up about their struggles, feeling misunderstood and alone in their experience. Many of us feel shame because we suffer from a mental illness. So the natural decision might be to conceal the condition we have to our circle. It is a way to avoid judgment, many hide their mental health struggles from friends, family and colleagues. This secrecy prevents them from getting support and reinforces isolation. On the other hand, if we choose to be open about our diagnosis it can strain our relationships. The misconceptions about mental illness can damage relationships, as loved ones' responses are colored by stigma. This strain compromises social bonds and leave us hanging in our bubble. The shame, secrecy and discrimination perpetuated by mental health stigma cut people off from vital interpersonal connections at a time when support is most needed, enabling a profoundly alienating loneliness to take root.

 

Psychotic disorders and Manic episodes

Psychosis involves hallucinations or delusions that can make it difficult to connect with others. People may be seeing or hearing things that others don't, or they may hold beliefs that seem strange to others. This can create a barrier to communication and make it hard to feel understood. During a manic episode, people may exhibit behaviors that are impulsive, grandiose, or aggressive. This can push loved ones away and make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships.

 

The internal challenges of managing distressing thoughts, emotions and behaviors can make it extremely difficult to nurture supportive relationships, perpetuating a cyclical loneliness. Seeking professional treatment is crucial. The fear of being judged or misunderstood can lead people to withdraw from social interaction. They may isolate themselves to avoid feeling embarrassed or scared. Embarrassment comes from the things we might have done during those manic and psychosis episodes. Some patients do not remember those episodes which makes it even harder to recognize oneself and potential wrongdoings.

 

Big Mood - TV SHOW (Channel 4 - UK)


Mental health conditions can make people feel different from others, which can contribute to feelings of isolation. Big Mood is an exceptional TV show that masterfully blends the complexities of friendship with the raw realities of living with bipolar disorder. Starring the incredibly talented Nicola Coughlan as Maggie and Lydia West as Eddie, the series delves deep into the lives of two best friends who have been inseparable for a decade. Their bond is tested as they navigate the challenges of adulthood and the reemergence of Maggie's bipolar disorder.


What sets "Big Mood" apart is its authentic depiction of bipolar disorder and its impact on everyday life. The show doesn't shy away from illustrating the struggles that come with the condition, highlighting how it can interfere with one's sense of purpose and ability to work towards a brighter future. Yet, it does so with a sensitivity and depth that is both enlightening and heartwarming.


Nicola Coughlan delivers a powerful performance as Maggie, bringing a nuanced and empathetic portrayal of a woman grappling with her mental health. Her chemistry with Lydia West, who plays the steadfast and supportive Eddie, is undeniable. West's portrayal of Eddie is equally compelling, showcasing the strength and resilience required to support a loved one while dealing with her own life's uncertainties.


The writing in Big Mood is sharp and insightful, striking a perfect balance between humor and drama. It beautifully captures the highs and lows of living with bipolar disorder, making it relatable for those who have experienced it and educational for those who haven't. The show also excels in depicting the importance of friendship and support systems, emphasizing that even in the darkest of times, the presence of a true friend can make all the difference.


Big Mood is not just a TV show; it's a heartfelt exploration of human relationships and mental health. It's a must-watch for anyone who appreciates storytelling that is both funny and relevant. With its excellent performances, particularly from Coughlan and West, and its honest representation of bipolar disorder, Big Mood stands out as one of the most impactful shows of the year. 


How to Cope with Loneliness: Tips for Mental Health Month

Remember, feeling lonely is a common human experience, and taking proactive steps to reach out and care for yourself can lead to stronger connections and a greater sense of support and well-being. Don't feel guilty for feeling the way you feel. Every day is a chance to get, feel and be better. Accepting our dark sides makes it easier to show up as who we truly are and we also strengthen the bonds of our existing and future connections.


Build and Maintain your Connections:


Reach out to existing friends and family:

  • Schedule regular calls or video chats: Consistent communication can strengthen bonds. It doesn't have to be conversation regarding your mental state. It can be simple conversation at first if it's what you are comfortable with. Phone calls are a way to keep a connection with the world.

  • Plan face-to-face meetups: Meet for coffee, lunch, or a walk in the park. Most people are happy to spend time with you so don't be afraid to meet up with a friend even if it's for one hour.

  • Send thoughtful messages: A simple text or handwritten note can show you care and maintain connections. I started to send postcards again recently. I used to always send postcards when I travel but I found it so fun to send postcard to long distance friends. It's a nice gesture and our friends always feel very touched by those small gestures.

Put yourself out there:

  • Join clubs or groups: Whether it’s a book club, sports team, or hobby group, engaging in shared activities fosters new friendships. Sometimes we find it easier to go places where no one knows us. It's liberating to show how we want and not how our loved ones expect us to.

  • Take a class: Enroll in a course that interests you, such as cooking, painting, or yoga, to meet like-minded people.

  • Volunteer: Offer your time to a cause you care about, such as animal shelters, community gardens, or food banks. Volunteering not only helps others but also creates opportunities to connect with people who share your values. We feel useless at times as we struggle with out mental health so a small action for good might lift our spirit.

  • Attend virtual events: Many online communities host webinars, virtual meetups, or live streams where you can interact in real-time. There a re a bunch of free online events on a plethora of subjects and you might find this way easier to reconnect with the world.


Self-Care is Key


Prioritize activities you enjoy:

  • Engage in hobbies: Dedicate time to reading, gardening, crafting, or any activity that brings you joy. Not everything you do is supposed to be perfect or help you make money. Sometimes, it is just fun to do the things for the sake of doing them. Cut yourself some slack and enjoy yourself!

  • Spend time in nature: Go for walks, hike, or simply sit in a park to rejuvenate your mind and body.

  • Listen to music: Create playlists that boost your mood and help you relax.


Take care of your physical health:

  • Exercise regularly: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. Sometimes focusing on moving our body and doing something else than overthinking can bring much more need breathes of fresh air for our body and mind.

  • Eat nutritious foods: Maintain a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

    • Get enough sleep: Ensure you’re getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to support your overall well-being. Don't feel bad about needing to lie down or take nap.

Be kind to yourself:

  • Practice self-compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding as you would a friend. Imagine a friend going through what you're going through. How would you comfort them?  Use similar gentle and understanding language with yourself.

  • Avoid comparisons: Remember that everyone’s journey is unique. Focus on your own progress and achievements. Instead of looking outwards at others' lives, turn your attention inwards. What are your strengths, passions, and goals? Focusing on your own journey can be empowering and distract from comparisons. What makes you unique?

  • Quit social media if it makes you feell worthless: Social media often portrays a highlight reel of people's best moments, which can fuel feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. Quitting can help you detach from this and focus on your own life. Studies suggest that excessive social media use can be linked to anxiety and depression, which can worsen feelings of loneliness. Quitting might lead to a more positive outlook.


Seek Professional Help if Needed


Consult a therapist: 

A mental health professional can provide support, strategies, and a safe space to talk about your feelings of loneliness.


Consult a healthcare professional: 

When your symptoms interfere with you daily routine or make it unbearable to be alive, talk to a healthcare professional. You can start by talking to your GP if it's easier at first.


Join support groups: 

Look for groups, either in-person or online, where you can share experiences and gain encouragement from others who understand what you’re going through.


Exiting loneliness due to a mental health condition is not an easy task, so it is important to be kind to ourselves and take the smallest steps to start with. Each small action can make a significant difference in overcoming loneliness and improving your overall well-being.


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