Mental Health Awareness Week 2022: Tackling loneliness with 5 Inspiring TED Talks

The 9th-15th May is Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK. Founded by charitable organisation The Mental Health Foundation, it aims to highlight the importance of good mental health and create open conversations about mental wellbeing. 

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week will be focusing on the core theme of ‘loneliness’ – a subject that has come to the fore over the past two years. Pandemic isolations, social distancing and living through strange and sometimes scary times have all played their part in making many people feel isolated or alone. In fact, the Office for National Statistics data on loneliness collected during the pandemic suggested that 7.2% of UK adults felt lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’ between October 2020 and February 2021. This marked an increase of 1.1m people since analysis in May 2020.

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The truth is though, that the number of people feeling lonely isn’t a new phenomenon triggered by the pandemic. According to the UK Government, large numbers of people felt lonely and isolated in this country long before COVID-19 struck. For that reason, they published a strategy to tackle loneliness and build a more connected society.

Why we need to tackle loneliness

Aside from the effects of the pandemic, loneliness is widely considered to be one of the largest health concerns affecting modern society. Us humans are social creatures, and our own wellbeing depends on interpersonal interactions and relationships.

It’s been proven that prolonged periods of loneliness can be associated with many serious health concerns; including an increased risk of depression, anxiety, dementia, stroke and heart disease. In addition, charitable organisation the Campaign to End Loneliness also found that:

  • Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 26%,
  • isolated or disconnected communities could be costing the UK economy £32 billion every year,
  • and half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all.

It makes sense then, that this growing problem is being given the attention it deserves. So with that in mind, and to coincide with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve been looking at how you can help support the fight against loneliness and learn more about this important subject.

Here are our top 5 favourite TED talks that tackle the tricky subject of loneliness and maintaining positive mental wellbeing

1. You are not alone in your loneliness | Jonny Sun

Although feeling lonely isn’t a pleasant feeling, facing up to it and being open about how you feel can actually help you find comfort, argues writer and artist Jonny Sun.

In this honest and heartfelt TED talk, Jonny talks about his own experiences of loneliness when studying abroad with the help of his own illustrations. He found that social media and the internet offered a personal and – perhaps paradoxically – totally impersonal way to overcome his loneliness and also reach out to communities who felt exactly the same as him: both connected and yet seemingly totally alone.

2. The best way to help is often just to listen | Sophie Andrews

One of the most difficult aspects of feeling alone or isolated is thinking that there’s no one you can talk to. And the thing about loneliness is that it’s not defined by how many people are physically surrounding you. You can feel physically and emotionally isolated at work, at a big party or even when you’re out and about with friends.

You could feel isolated or lonely because you’re having trouble with a deeply personal subject you don’t feel comfortable talking about. Or, it could be the case you don’t want to be bombarded with advice or opinions – you just need someone to listen.

In this inspiring TED talk, Sophie Andrews, founder of The Silver Line, a helpline that supports lonely and isolated older people, talks about her experiences with the Samaritans and how they helped her to become a survivor of abuse and not just a victim. She shares how when someone is feeling at their most alone and helpless, the simple act of listening (instead of giving advice) is often the best way to help.

3. The beauty of being a misfit | Lidia Yuknavitch

Feelings of loneliness and isolation can come from not feeling like you’re a misfit or not ‘part of the crowd’. This can happen if we fall outside the box of what’s considered ‘normal’, such as developing late, learning a different way, or wanting to pursue our own directions either personally or professionally.

It can also come from experiencing failures in earlier life. For example, not achieving brilliant grades at school, dropping out of education altogether, or simply just not wanting to follow the path of others.

That was certainly the case for author Lidia Yuknavitch, who shares her own rebellious personal journey in this TED talk made up of an intimate patchwork of stories about loss, shame and the slow process of her own self-acceptance.

4. A video game that helps us understand loneliness | Cornelia Geppert

Maintaining positive mental wellbeing or overcoming negative feelings such as loneliness isn’t as easy as flicking a switch or making a singular change. It’s also the case that for many people, trying to express complex feelings or emotions is also extremely difficult. This is something artist Cornelia Geppert explains in this insightful TED talk.

Corneila shows how helping create a video game helped her to better explore her own emotions and also help others do the same, too. In it, players battle the “monsters” of loneliness and self-doubt, helping them to better grapple with both the complexity and struggles of mental health and highlight the ongoing challenge of maintaining personal wellbeing.

5. Why you should talk to strangers | Kio Stark

It’s not uncommon for parents to tell their young children not to talk to strangers to keep them safe. And whilst this of course makes sense, when you’re an adult, you’ll often need to talk to strangers all the time: be it at work, going to the shops, or simply when out and about.

Unfortunately, talking to strangers can often be a challenge for a lot of people. In this eye-opening TED talk, novelist Kio Stark argues that because children in many cultures are raised to believe that strangers can be dangerous, there are now huge numbers of people out there who struggle to engage or connect with strangers in later life – leading to them feeling alone or isolated.

Stark delves deep into the benefits of pushing past our default discomfort when it comes to interacting with strangers and embracing those fleeting but profoundly beautiful moments of genuine connection they can sometimes bring.

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