Loneliness – how to help ourselves, colleagues and students to feel less lonely

Author: Ruth Simmons, Mental Health Foundation
Published: 19/04/2022

Loneliness at work

In recent years, loneliness has become increasingly recognised as a leading public health issue: the percentage of adults in the UK who report feeling lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’ has risen from 5% to 7.2% since the pandemic.*

Working within education settings, you play a crucial part in not only supporting children and young people through their education but supporting the development of their emotional and social wellbeing as well. As such, your mental health and wellbeing can often be overlooked. For some, it can feel difficult to seek support at work for mental health related issues. The Teacher Wellbeing Index 2021 found 57% of staff are not confident in disclosing mental health issues to their employer, with 43% of staff experiencing a lack of support from their organisation when experiencing mental health and wellbeing issues. Feeling unsupported at work can often lead to feeling lonely.

But you are not alone. 50% of staff who spoke to someone at work about their mental health problems said it gave them perspective and helped them realise they are not alone. It is important to protect time to look after yourself and build connections with those around you. 

How to feel less lonely

Loneliness can be divided into three types: emotional, social and existential. 

Emotional loneliness: the lack or loss of a significant other, like a partner or close friend, with whom a person had a meaningful relationship.

Finding opportunities to reconnect with ourselves and increase our emotional awareness can help us to begin to understand what we, and others, can do to reduce feelings of loneliness and support our mental health.

‘Find something that works for you and prioritise it. Be honest with your own emotions rather than hide things.’ OPEN Network Respondent, Mental Health Foundation

We may often feel it is impossible at times to step away from our mounting tasks and take time for ourselves. However, without prioritising time to reconnect with ourselves, we can experience burn-out.

Read our Rethinking Rest Guide to support you in building pockets of time into your day for you.

Social loneliness: the lack of a wider social network of friends and acquaintances that can create a sense of belonging, companionship and of being part of a community.

Building meaningful connections with others, often with like-minded people, can be a great support and foster a sense of belonging that may be missing when we feel lonely. It can take time to build such connections, but there are things we can do to grow positive social connectedness – remember every interaction matters!

'Acknowledge, don't judge. Befriend, support with going to a new activity.' OPEN Network Respondent, Mental Health Foundation

Read Education Support’s ‘Talking to colleagues about their mental health and wellbeing’ article and ‘Looking after yourself & each other in education settings’ top to understand how being psychologically aware can build wellbeing and grow resilience.

Existential loneliness: a general sense of feeling a ‘separateness’ from others which can contribute to having a lack of meaning in life.

Even if we have meaningful connections with ourselves and others, we may still lack a sense of belonging when it comes to wider society. This may be especially prevalent for those who don’t see themselves represented within society or who experience discrimination.

Simple things can help build connections with the world around us, such as saying good morning to a colleague or listening out for birdsong on the way to work.

'Just connecting in some way to other human beings is beneficial to our well-being. Say ‘Hi’ to someone, even if it’s the person behind the till, or thanking the bus driver.' OPEN Network Respondent, Mental Health Foundation.

Read our Thriving with Nature guide, developed with WWF-UK, for tips on how to connect with the nature around you.

There are many other ways to build connections to the world around us, including joining social groups or sports teams, fundraising for a good cause or volunteering.

Combatting loneliness in schools

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, The Mental Health Foundation has worked alongside schools taking part in the MHF's Peer Education Project to produce their schools' pack  Loneliness: Finding our connections to feel less lonely to support you and your school to begin finding connections to feel less lonely.

The pack includes: 

•          an assembly script and PowerPoint slides

•          a lesson plan, optional worksheets and PowerPoint slides

          guides for pupils, staff and parents/caregivers.

You may also like ‘Loneliness: Supporting yourself and others Staff Guide’, developed with Education Support.

Get involved in Mental Health Awareness Week 

During Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation encourages you to:  

  • use the hashtag #IveBeenThere to share experiences of loneliness and tips on how to support ourselves and others when feeling lonely. By sharing our experiences, we can send a powerful message to others that we’ve been there too.
  • talk about loneliness within your family, school, workplace, and community. Use our tips, school packs, research and policy guides on supporting people to connect with themselves, others and the world around them.

To find out more about how you and your school can get involved with Mental Health Awareness Week, visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk/mhaw and follow Mental Health Foundation’s social media channels:

  • Twittter:@mentalhealth
  • Facebook:@mentalhealthfoundation
  • Instagram:@mentalhealthfoundation
  • LinkedIn:@mental-health-foundation


  1. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/lonelinesswhatcharacteristicsandcircumstancesareassociatedwithfeelinglonely/2018-04-10
  2. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/mappinglonelinessduringthecoronaviruspandemic/2021-04-07
Ruth Simmons, Mental Health Foundation

Ruth is Project Manager for Peer Education, part of the Mental Health Foundation.