Linking Lives: Church Response to Loneliness & Mental Health
Loneliness & Mental Health – What is the church’s response?
Loneliness and mental health have always been intertwined issues and this will continue to be the case in the future.
Whilst loneliness is not a mental health condition in and of itself, it can (and does) often lead to mental health problems. These can include various types of social phobia, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.
Equally, mental health problems of varying types and levels can often lead to significant experiences of loneliness and so the two issues can exacerbate each other.
In July 2020, the Campaign to End Loneliness published a report called ‘The Psychology of Loneliness’ and this explored the relationship between mental health and loneliness and made a number of recommendations as to how individuals and agencies could address this growing problem. These included:
- Increasing understanding about the effects of loneliness
- Groups addressing loneliness exploring ways to incorporate the effects on mental health and psychology
- Offering more one-to-one opportunities for those with complex needs
Impact of Covid-19
These issues were already being discussed prior to Covid-19 in terms of an ‘epidemic’ and since March 2021 there is evidence that the numbers of people experiencing mental health problems and loneliness has increased and has affected people of all ages, backgrounds and geographical area regardless of levels of affluence or deprivation.
The ONS found that ‘up to a million more people became chronically lonely as lockdown continued – increasing the total to 3.7 million adults by the beginning of 2021’.
Within this, churches also expressed similar concerns and in a report published in May 2021 by Church Urban Fund, over 90% of [church leaders] said that loneliness/isolation and mental health are affecting people “a little more” or “much more” than before the pandemic.’
How can the church respond to loneliness & mental health?
Although many of the measures required to respond to Covid-19 are gradually being reduced in the UK, the impact of lockdown, bereavement and other side effects are still being felt by many people and are unlikely to be resolved for many months or years. We have become aware of an increase in those showing signs of Agoraphobia, anxiety and hesitancy to leave the home and we expect this to continue for some time.
Many churches across the UK have been addressing issues around mental health and loneliness either implicitly or explicitly for many decades. In recent years, however, there have been a number of initiatives set up at a community level by churches and Christian organisations which specifically aim to address this, including support groups, counselling services, community activities and events, befriending/mentoring services.
Another recent development has been the emergence of community franchise models which provide a framework and processes for churches to address these issues in a safe, professional and effective way which is appropriate for their community. These include Linking Lives UK, Kintsugi Hope, Care Home Friends, Parish Nursing, Sanctuary Mental Health and Renew Wellbeing.
Linking Lives UK is now focusing on the need to provide a wide variety of resources and means that churches and individual Christians can use to address loneliness and mental health in local communities. In some instances, this will be by creating a befriending scheme (using our Two’s Company Befriending model) and in others, churches and Christians on an individual level will be in a position to informally support those around them by becoming more aware of these issues and also understanding the Biblical challenge to express the love of God to all those in our communities.
Please do pray for us as we seek to serve the church in addressing loneliness and social isolation at this time that we may adjust effectively to changing circumstances and identify priority areas within which to operate.