Mental health blog

Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 - How I Missed the Smiles

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked our Mental Health First Aid Network to reflect on how loneliness can affect mental wellbeing. Here, one of our colleagues describes how lockdown impacted them and how they have found the positives in being a key part of an NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) network group.

In the summer of 2020, I went to pick up equipment from my office so I could continue to work from home. I was smiling at people, pleased to see different faces for a change – only to receive nothing back. Then I realised that everyone was wearing a mask, so if they were smiling too, I couldn’t see it. Of course, I was wearing a mask, so they hadn’t seen me smile in the first place!

A smile can make you feel much less lonely, and it was saddening to see that they were all missing!

Everything seemed to conspire to make us feel lonely during lockdown, and the word ‘isolation’ became one of the most frequently used over the past two years. For those who worked from home, the everyday socialising that comes with work, shopping, and other routine tasks vanished entirely; even if living in a house with others, we were ‘at work’ therefore unavailable and left out of everything that might be going on elsewhere.

It was probably a little different for those who still had to go to their workplace; the social distancing rules, one-way systems, and seating arrangements kept everyone safe but also had an isolating effect. Even though I was only briefly in the office, having to move away from people made me feel as though I was being rude, and having them move away from me felt like rejection – despite knowing it was the necessary and sensible thing to do. Socialising in person actually became stressful for some.

I think this is where the internet really proved its worth. Facilities like Microsoft Teams allowed us to remain safe in lockdown, but still communicate with each other. Chats and channels were set up so colleagues still had a place to reach out and interact. The provision of cameras meant that we could see a few smiles again! It made the world of difference.

So too, did some of the opportunities that presented themselves. Previously, I wasn’t able to travel to other sites for training, but with the new, broader network within the NHSBSA, everything was run to support home working, and that included training. I was able to take advantage of this  – and trained to be a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA). It was great to be in a position to help others who were struggling with their own isolation and loneliness, and to be available when it perhaps became too much for them. The fact that the entire network could be run with members spread right across the country was a solid reminder that we didn’t have to be alone because there was a way to reach out. In this way, the MHFA Network really made a difference, and I could do my part.

This also meant that we could see a few smiles we had never seen before and talk to new people. This is one part of lockdown that I’d like to see stay with us, so if anyone finds themselves in a position of loneliness again, reach out and talk to someone, you never know the difference a chat and a smile can make!