One County Down man who found loneliness too hard to bear was Gerard Bentley, who ended up in psychiatric care three times following the death of his father.
The loneliness Gerard felt was compounded by feelings of guilt over his somewhat turbulent relationship with his father, whom he had lived with, prior to his death six years ago.
Gerard, 41, dearly loved his father, but, as many adults who live with a parent will attest, relationships are often strained when living together beyond the traditional time children fly the nest.
‘‘I loved my father but sometimes I couldn’t live with him, though I couldn’t live without him,’’ Gerard explains.
‘‘We were very close but sometimes we argued, which is normal. However, when he died I felt a lot of guilt about that.’’
Prolonged periods of only his own company left Gerard in despair and even drove him to feelings of suicide.
‘‘When my dad died I was on my own and my life turned upside down. I was sitting there, thinking too much, feeling so guilty, that I planned on taking my own life a couple of times.
‘‘My family are a good support but we don’t talk about my dad because it’s too painful and they have their own things to go through, so it was hard for me to talk to anyone.’’
Gerard was admitted to a local psychiatric unit for treatment but just having the company of others was enough to start him on the road to recovery. Returning home, however, to an empty house, save for his dog, he was soon back in hospital.
The cycle was repeated again, with Gerard being released only to experience the heavy burden of loneliness and despair once more. Following his departure from his third stay in hospital, Gerard’s community psychiatric nurse referred him to Action Mental Health’s New Horizons.
New Horizons forms the core of Action Mental Health’s recovery services. At nine locations throughout Northern Ireland, specialist staff support the recovery of adults experiencing mental-ill health who are interested in progressing towards further education/training or employment.
‘‘When I was in the house alone I did feel very lonely, but in the hospital, being with other people was a big part of my recovery and it really did make a difference having other people to talk to.’’
A few years after his father’s death Gerard’s doctor told him he had autism. It was a diagnosis that both helped and hindered him.
‘‘It explained quite a few things for me but it also gave me a complex,’’ he said, adding that it had a great impact on his self-confidence.
And following his release from hospital for the last time, confidence was something he had to work on as he prepared to enter AMH’s New Horizons.
‘‘I was apprehensive about going to the service, as it was a step into the unknown. But as soon as I arrived I was given such a warm welcome and was treated with such respect that I only wish I’d started here sooner. You get stuck straight into a whole new world here and now I have a regular weekly routine. I’ve been coming since April 2018. It feels really good getting up in the morning and knowing I’m coming here.
‘‘When I get home each night I feel like I’ve achieved something, like when you get home from a day’s work; I have been in the company of others and doing so many new things it settles me for the rest of the night.’’
Nowadays, Gerard spends his days participating in a range of activities that would be the envy of most – everything from his favourite archery, to photography, creative writing, art, computing and even yoga.
‘‘I’m a whizz on my iPhone but I don’t know much about computers at all,’’ Gerard, a former joiner, admits. Once he learns the basics through his New Horizons course, he will then have the opportunity to put his new skills to further use by undertaking the ECDL – European Computer Driving Licence qualification, if he wishes.
Though he admits that planning on a future career remains a ‘bridge too far,’ Gerard is considering volunteering as a first step back into the world of work, perhaps in an animal sanctuary.
In the meantime, Gerard will continue participating in New Horizons’ various services which will promote further personal growth, development and self-esteem. And once he leaves, he’ll have acquired a whole new branch of social connections and new friends.
‘‘I couldn’t have met a nicer bunch of people here at New Horizons, and it’s helped me so much with my confidence. It has made such a difference to me,’’ he said.
* The courses Gerard is currently undertaking are part of New Horizons’ ‘Working it Out’ project, which is part-funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020, the Department for the Economy and the five NI Health and Social Care Trusts. New Horizons are among the many AMH projects which could benefit if you sign up to the charity’s ‘Light Up Christmas’ appeal 2019. To request a fundraising pack contact AMH’s Fundraising Team on email@example.com or call 028 9182 8494. Together, we can tackle loneliness.
If you’re feeling low, contact your GP or community psychiatric nurse, as Gerard did, or if you’re in crisis contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. Please always remember that help and support is available.
Public urged to support Action Mental Health this Christmas amidst sobering Northern Ireland statistics
Gerard's story comes as over 250,000 people in Northern Ireland have a mental health problem – that amounts to one in every five people in our community.
Half of these problems start before the age of 14.
Action Mental Health (AMH) was founded back in 1963 when the stigma of the day made it very difficult for people with mental ill-health to access the support they needed.
Thankfully nowadays, with the increased awareness and reduction in stigma on mental health, AMH’s nine New Horizons services around Northern Ireland, are much-vaunted support networks to people experiencing periods of mental ill-health.
New Horizons operates recovery services that offer well-being, vocational and employability programmes. This complements AMH’s emotional well-being and resilience building programmes in schools, workplaces and indeed across the community which aim to build a more resilient and healthier population.
Last year AMH services supported over 33,000 local people.
Loneliness can hit people at various times of their lives
With feelings of isolation spiking at various points in the span of the average person.
* Research found the oldest were perhaps unsurprisingly among the loneliest, with young adults coming in second.
* People on lower incomes have been found to be lonelier than those on higher incomes.
* People with fewer friends, those who have less contact with others, and single people all related to being lonelier.
* Loneliness increases a person’s odds of developing mental health problems and its effects can feel even worse if you’re struggling with your mental health.
How to help / get in touch
Through this year’s Christmas campaign, ‘Light Up Christmas,’ you can help support Action Mental Health’s services for local people. By getting involved, and hosting your own fundraising event, you’ll help AMH’s recovery and resilience programmes which benefit the entire community.
To request a fundraising pack contact AMH’s Fundraising Team on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 028 9182 8494.
If you’re feeling low, contact your GP or community psychiatric nurse, or if you’re in crisis contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. Please always remember that help and support is available.
**This week marks the second edition of our special Loneliness Campaign with Action Mental Health and Age NI.
Stay tuned for Week Three in which Action Mental Health explores how teenagers have been identified as being even lonelier than older people, and we hear from an Action Mental Health project worker who goes out into colleges to promote better mental health.
We also team up with AgeNI to explore how older people can stay well and connected this winter.