10/07/2018 10:53 BST | Updated 10/07/2018 10:53 BST

The High Price Of Loneliness

Any mental health problem can affect anyone of any age regardless of their personality or how they appear on the outside

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Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year but the issue of mental health problems is still surrounded in misperceptions and misconceptions.

A couple of weeks ago, I became ill at work and I thought it was an UTI. I hastily saw my GP who tested my sample and then declared there was nothing wrong with me. I had the same symptoms in May so it was puzzling that my samples were all coming back clear. Was I actually ill or making the whole thing up? Who knew? What a conundrum to solve.

I saw the same doctor in January for anxiety so he solved the long-lasting riddle and proclaimed I was having physical symptoms of anxiety. He handed me a prescription for Sertraline and put me on the waiting list for CBT. Finally, the mystery had been solved!

As I sit here writing this article on my dirty old MacBook Air, I’m focusing on the fact that I am surrounded by wonderful friends and family. At times like this, my mother always steps up to the plate and as she scooted off to her boyfriend’s, she checked I was okay and offered me the use of her double bedroom.

I am acutely aware that one of the reasons why I have anxiety is that I regularly suffer from loneliness. On the weekends, I am often found studying at home alone with just my pet dog [Willow] for company. Loneliness is gradually being reported on epidemic levels and as the BBC News reports, more than a quarter of all households contain just one person.

The Office of National Statistics recently found 16-24 year olds are more likely to be lonely than people aged 65 or older. You can be surrounded by people your own age and feel alone. Even more worryingly, loneliness often increases the likelihood of premature death with those who live alone at a 30% higher risk of early death.

This is a high price to pay for something that we can all equally tackle.

In 2018, there is still a misperception that you cannot suffer from a mental health illness if you seem fine on the outside. As news leaked into the family fold that I have anxiety, I was told that I could not have anxiety because I am the most outgoing in the family. I’m quite a sensitive soul so I had anticipated this response and found myself uncharacteristically unaffected by their comments.

Anxiety comes in many different forms. My anxiety is social-related. I hate the build-up to parties or meeting friends but as soon as I’m there, I’m fine and drinking as many cocktails as I can. I just like to OVER-THINK about every single possibility that could happen beforehand.

I am aware of the juxtaposition. My anxiety is preventing me from attending social events which in turn is making me lonely. Despite this, I do really value my friendships. Early last month, I travelled 12 hours to see a friend for 4 hours. This is partly out of loneliness as I had not seen my friend for a year. Soon the days turn into months and before you know it, it is easy to become stuck. I didn’t sign up for this never-ending circle but it has got me thinking about the best way to solve the loneliness crisis.

Loneliness is everywhere and we should all take responsibility in eradicating it. Starting a conversation with our neighbours, colleagues or someone sitting next to you on the train is something we can all do to play a role in reducing loneliness. The Prime Minister appointed the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission which found 200,000 older people had not had a conversation with relative in more than a month and up to 85% of young adults with disabilities say they feel lonely most days. It is time for us to act.

Further, a change in attitudes to mental health problems would make a great difference. I’ve lost friends because of my mental health problems. During university, it became clear that my friends weren’t comfortable with my anxiety which in turn, made me uncomfortable discussing it with them. This created a great rife and we sadly grew apart.

Any mental health problem can affect anyone of any age regardless of their personality or how they appear on the outside. We need to recognise the high cost of mental health problems and reduce misperceptions. A little bit of understanding and kindness goes a long way.