Loneliness is a state of mind when one feels disconnected from others. People who feel lonely may feel left out, lack companionship, or struggle to connect. Related to loneliness, social isolation focuses on the lack of connections someone may have. In today’s society, loneliness and social isolation are part of a silent epidemic. The number of people affected by loneliness has become so great that it was the focus of our US Surgeon General’s report in May. Additionally, the British public service broadcaster’s (BBC) survey, The Loneliness Experiment, revealed that while older populations are struggling with loneliness, higher rates of self-reported loneliness appear among young people. Contributing factors include:
- Prolonged social isolation due to the COVID pandemic
- Less experience at regulating their emotions, so everything is felt more intensely
- Minimal experience with loneliness, therefore unaware it often passes
- Working out how they relate to others and where they stand in society
- Social media creating feelings of inferiority, exclusion or missing out
- Moving, changing schools, the death or loss of a loved one to incarceration or deportation
What can we do as mentors to help address mentees who may be experiencing loneliness? In addition to building a positive, healthy relationship, we can model how to make friends, build community, and ask for support at any developmental age. Understood.org notes that we should model for our mentees:
- How to start conversations- role play different scenarios, take turns choosing topics.
- Have awareness of social cues-whether it be verbally, through body language, or facial expressions, teach your mentee self-awareness. Engage in an activity on how to communicate different emotions without using words, such as body language or facial expression, and practice navigating social cues.
- Know the unwritten social rules- practice meeting and greeting, paying attention, knowing when to listen and when to speak, cooperating with others, asking for directions or help, apologizing, and being flexible as a way to connect through cooperation.
- Listen and understand others- By modeling and providing a space to practice these social skills, we are reinforcing the importance of making authentic and meaningful connections.
As mentors, we are in a prime position to teach our mentees how to build community so if faced with loneliness and isolation they will know what to do. Loneliness and social isolation was the topic of our January monthly mentor training. Please review the powerpoint used in the training and as always, if you have any questions do reach out to your Mentor Director.