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Self - Isolation

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Were many people, before this pandemic, already profoundly psychologically isolated? Suicide is the largest killer of young men in the UK. The Dalai Lama describes the incidence of depression in the West as an ‘epidemic’. Caroline Flack, the popular TV presenter, spoke about how lonely and isolated she felt before she took her own life recently.

Are these just symptoms of a much deeper problem, one where we have forgotten how to connect with each other?

As long as mental health is stigmatised we will feel shame and failure and be reluctant to talk about it to others. In this way even amongst a group of friends we can still feel isolated. Maybe physical self isolation might highlight this in some way.

 A colleague who is working from home with kids off school said he had never had so much quality time with his children. Also that his friend in New Zealand now texts him once a day rather than once a month.

Many years ago there was a TV programme about a very simple piece of research in a library. The librarian was asked to touch 50% of the visitors very lightly on the hand or wrist. Each visitor to the library was interviewed outside about their experience of the library. The half of the group that were touched generally spoke about the whole library in glowing terms. They did not mention being touched but this simple contact had made them feel welcome and visiting the library a pleasant experience. 

A member of an NHS mindfulness group said recently: ‘maybe we’re the lucky ones?…..before my breakdown I felt completely alone, ashamed of what was happening to me. Sitting here now I know I’m not alone and see that what I’ve gone through is natural and a version of what everyone goes through at some point in their lives. I just feel grateful.’

It’s quite common for patients to say something like: ‘I just want to be normal like everyone else’. They are sitting on a bus or in the cinema imagining that everyone else is managing their lives ok, feeling isolated because they believe there is something wrong with them and who would understand?

This illusion falls away for the woman in the mindfulness group and it does for us all if we can see things as they really are. The pandemic potentially shatters the illusion of being on our own with suffering.

Could this crisis force us to radically review the quality of our connections? To think about what really sustains us physically and psychologically….to wrench us out of mental isolation through shame into sharing.

Martin Wells

Consultant psychotherapist , National Health Service and private practice

I have worked in the NHS in the UK for over 30 years, as a consultant psychotherapist. I teach mindfulness and practice psychotherapy from a non-dual perspective. I have led retreats in England, Scotland, the USA, Goa and Spain My book 'Sitting in the Stillness' was published by Mantra books in February 2020: https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/mantra-books/our-books/sitting-in-stillness