Beating Loneliness: Who's on Your Personal 988 Hotline?
Loneliness is a public health concern. Learn how to create your lifeline to connection.
One of my earliest online workshops was in the first pandemic-enforced lockdown. As innocent citizens of the world, we thought it would just take 21 days inside four walls to halt the march of the virus. The client had just hired a new batch of young talent and thought it would be good to engage and onboard virtually. One participant refused to turn on his camera. He was very clear he did not want to be seen. And he was kind and patient enough to share why. He had just relocated to Bengaluru from his hometown, was sitting in an extremely small pay-guest accommodation, and his life was confined to one cot and mattress. ‘This is my living room, bedroom, kitchen table…everything. And I want to get out, not let you in!’
While the pandemic eased away, this feeling stayed with many. A new way of life that involved less daily commutes but more face-time with colleagues. This powerful and humbling moment revealed a profound shift in how we live and work. As lockdowns stretched from weeks to months and even years in some places, the experiences of confinement, isolation, and longing for connection became all too familiar.
Why am I reflecting on this now?
While the pandemic itself began to recede, its emotional and psychological impacts lingered. And it doesn't help to wake up to news of wars raging across several borders.
In a world that's more interconnected than ever before, paradoxically, loneliness has emerged as a silent epidemic. The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has labelled it as the next public health crisis, and for a good reason. Loneliness transcends age, gender, and social status, impacting millions of lives. But in a post-COVID world, its occurrence and intensity have reached alarming levels. People were physically isolated, and social connections were strained to the brink.
The 988 Hotline: A Beacon of Hope
As a response to this growing concern, the U.S. Surgeon General introduced a new lifeline - the 988 hotline. Much like 911 for emergencies, this number is dedicated to suicide prevention and crisis intervention. It provides a vital service to those in immediate need of help.
But what if we expanded this concept to our daily lives? What if each of us had our personal 988 hotline, a network of people, activities, or events that could act as a lifeline during times of loneliness and emotional distress? It's time to explore the importance of setting up these personal 988 hotlines and how they can help us navigate the challenges of an increasingly disconnected world.
Creating Your Personal 988 Hotline
We've collectively come to acknowledge the vital importance of mental health. And a lot of it is also thanks to the positive (yes, there are positives!) influence of social media and accessibility to celebrities and public figures. We now hear them speak candidly about the dark days they have experienced; we see them share their vulnerabilities, and we watch (rather too intently sometimes!) as they live their lives with no curtain drawn, so to speak. We understand that well-being is not just about chasing happiness but also about embracing life's inevitable ups and downs.
So, how can we better deal with the downs? One powerful tool in this journey is to create your personal 988 hotline that acts as a lifeline when the going gets tough. Let's explore this concept and how it can help us build resilience in facing life's challenges.
1. Family and Friends: The SOS Squad
Think of your family and friends as your SOS (Support on Standby) squad. These are the folks who've seen you at your best and your "I-ate-a-whole-pint-of-ice-cream-alone" worst. They're your first responders in times of loneliness.
Remember that time when you decided to paint your living room neon orange and then realized it looked more like a construction site than a cosy space? Your friends were there to help, both with paintbrushes and some much-needed laughter. They're the ones who won't judge you for your décor choices, no matter how questionable they may be. And they will sit on that same hideous couch with you and watch the Cricket World Cup with running commentary!
2. Shared Interests: Fandoms and Fellow Enthusiasts
No matter how unique your quirks and hobbies, there's a club or group out there just waiting for you to join. Whether it's a "Wine and Cheese Appreciation Society" or "Amateur UFO Spotters," shared interests can spark connections that light up your world.
Joining a group of fellow aficionados can lead to some pretty amusing situations. Ever been to a "Biryani Cook-Off" in India? It's like a delicious clash of culinary titans, where everyone insists their secret ingredient is what makes the perfect biryani. The arguments over the merits of basmati rice versus a local star and the passionate defence of regional variations can turn your average cook-off into a spicy showdown. You can even turn up as a vegetarian and perhaps go home with some veg biryani, aka pulav. (Had to call that out!)
3. Mental Health Professionals: Your Emotional Coaches
Sometimes, loneliness can feel like a heavyweight bout with your own thoughts. This is when your emotional coaches come into play. They're the therapists, counsellors, or support groups who provide you with valuable strategies to tackle the mental monsters.
These professionals are like emotional coaches – they don't make you run laps, but they'll help you cross the finish line in your battle against loneliness.
4. Exercise and Well-being: The Sweat Pals
Exercise is a fantastic way to boost not just your physical health but also your mental well-being. Your 'Sweat Pals' are your fitness buddies, the ones who remind you that working out can be fun, even if you have a love-hate relationship with the gym.
The first time you tried a spin class, you thought you'd never stop pedalling. When you finally got off the bike, your legs were wobblier than a jellyfish in a hurricane. But your 'Sweat Pals' were there, cheering you on. They understood that getting fit isn't always a graceful process.
5. Volunteer Work: Kindness Crusaders
Sometimes, the best way to heal your own loneliness is by helping others. Join the 'Kindness Crusaders' in your community. Volunteering not only lets you make a difference but also connects you with like-hearted souls.
At a local charity event, you ended up sorting donated clothes with a person who can only be described as a "sock-folding virtuoso." Their dedication to neatly pairing those donated socks was awe-inspiring. You both laughed at the absurdity of it all and from that day on, you knew you'd found a real 'Kindness Crusader' friend.
Or step up and shake a leg backstage to organise the Navratri Garba Night or Diwali Disco Night in your neighbourhood. Good food, good music, and good times are guaranteed, surrounded by friendly faces with no agenda except celebrating together.
So, remember, creating your personal 988 hotline is about more than just filling your contact list; it's about building a support system that adds humour, warmth, and connection to your life. These relationships can be your lifesavers in times of loneliness. But you have to build the list a bit proactively and consistently.
When You Are the Phone-A-Friend:
When you receive a call on someone's hotline, it's your turn to be the superhero of their story. Here's how you can be a true friend in times of need:
Listen Actively: Sometimes, all a person needs is someone to listen without judgment. Be all ears. Ask open-ended questions, allowing them to share at their own pace. And if you're unsure what to say, "I'm here for you" is always a good start. Your friend once called you, upset about a job interview. Instead of jumping in with solutions, you listened carefully. You let them express their frustrations, and after the call, they told you it made a world of difference.
Check-In Regularly: Loneliness can be a silent struggle. Even when your friend's Instagram is full of smiles, they might be battling isolation. Make it a habit to check in on them regularly. A simple message like "How are you today?" can work wonders. One day, you randomly texted a friend you hadn't talked to in a while. So after the mandatory ‘Happy <insert festival>”, you asked them about their work or family or hobby. Turns out, they were going through a tough time. Your message was like a lifeline, reminding them that someone cared.
Offer Assistance: Sometimes, a practical hand can lighten the emotional load. Offer specific assistance. For example, if you know they're struggling with a deadline, ask, "Can I help you with anything? Maybe we can work on it together?" Your colleague was overwhelmed with moving into her new apartment. You offered to lend a hand. The two of you ended up laughing about the absurd amount of bubble wrap needed for her porcelain owl collection, and in the process, a friendship was born.
Share Your Own Experiences: Sharing your own struggles can make your friend feel less alone. It shows vulnerability and reassures them that it's okay not to be okay. Once, when you were feeling lonely and lost, you talked to a friend about it. Surprisingly, they revealed they'd felt the same way. It was a profound moment of connection, and you both emerged stronger from it.
Encourage Professional Help: If your friend's loneliness or mental health struggles seem overwhelming, encourage them to seek professional help. Offer to help find resources or accompany them to appointments if they're comfortable. Your cousin had been showing signs of severe loneliness and anxiety. You gently suggested they talk to a therapist. Though initially hesitant, they eventually did and said it was one of the best decisions they'd ever made.
Plan Social Activities: Loneliness often shrinks a person's social life. Be the one to reignite it. Invite your friend for a coffee, a movie night, or a simple walk in the park. Social connections can work wonders for their mental health. A colleague seemed down, so you invited them for a game night with friends. You played board games, shared stories, and left the evening with new inside jokes and a happier, more connected friend.
Being there for someone who's lonely can be deeply rewarding. It's about being a pillar of support and ensuring they don't feel like they're fighting their battles alone. These small gestures can make a big difference in someone's life.
October holds #WorldMentalHealthDay. Let’s make it a priority every day.
This article provides advice and suggestions for dealing with loneliness and supporting others but is not a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice. I am not a healthcare professional, and the information presented here is for general informational purposes only. If you or someone you know is struggling with severe loneliness or mental health issues, please seek help from a qualified healthcare provider or mental health specialist. They can provide personalized guidance and support tailored to your specific needs. Your mental well-being is important, and professionals are available to assist you.