"Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic. That is why we have chosen it as our theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2022.
Our connection to other people and our community is fundamental to protecting our mental health so we must find better ways of tackling the epidemic of loneliness.
We can all play a part in this. The week is also an invaluable opportunity for people to talk about all aspects of mental health, with a focus on providing help and advice.” 🎗️
- Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation
As we are all a community of dog lovers, I wanted to start an open conversation and share some thoughts with you.
This year's Mental Health Awareness Week is based around loneliness, and will explore the experience of loneliness, its effect on our mental health, and how we can all play a part in reducing loneliness in our communities.
The Mental Health Foundation goes on to explain how loneliness affects millions of people in the UK every year and is a key driver of poor mental health. This year’s theme is one that is close to my heart - which is why I wanted to talk about the emotional experience of loneliness and isolation with our Barc London family.
I believe the experience of loneliness is universally felt at one stage or another throughout our lifetime, and as we are hardwired for connection, this can be an extremely uncomfortable time. I naturally can’t help but relate to my own experience of feeling isolated and alone, and share how owning dogs has been a shining light for me in some of the darkest of moments.
When spending some time thinking about the impact my own dogs have had on my life, a few things came to mind. There was a survey carried out in 2020, asking UK dog owners to state their reasons for owning a dog. All survey responses linked their ownership to either improving their happiness, and / or providing companionship:
- Happiness was the most common response - with 51% stating ‘because they make me happy’.
- 47% stated their dogs ‘provided love/affection’ and,
- 35% stated their dogs ‘provide companionship’
So, I am clearly not alone here.
Speaking from personal experience, Archie, my first dog, was the dog that accompanied me through my 20’s - a naturally turbulent time where you really start to venture out in the world and shape who you are - and I can hand-on-heart say Archie helped shape me.
I’m sure that the physical responsibility of a dog, and taking dog ownership seriously, meant I was grounded in some manner. I had to be there daily to take him out and care for him, and I’m sure this helped me through some tough times, in the form of having a solid routine.
But owning a dog also helped prevent me from abdicating all responsibility and running away with poor behaviours - I wasn’t able to flee uncomfortable times and use negative coping mechanisms to get me through. Even if that wasn't clear at the time, reflecting back, if I were without my dog, who knows how many poor decisions I could have made at 4am while trying to numb some of life's problems.
Then I landed at the more obvious side of dog ownership, the fact this little creature was my best friend and easily the most consistent part of that decade. I was never alone thanks to my dog. I was never judged, no matter how hard my day had been, he would greet me in the same loving manner he always did. I am forever grateful for the unconditional love I felt through this companionship, as I felt its presence and saw the profound effect it had on my life.
It is honestly the reason why I’ve landed myself in a world full of dogs, because let's be honest, people can sometimes be difficult - and that's not to say dogs can't (my 8 month old puppy is enjoying testing all of my boundaries currently), but dogs for me seem to be the most beautiful and consistent additions to our lives and maybe it's just me, but I think they really might be a perfect antidote for loneliness.
I would love to explore your experience of your own dog/s, and find out how they have helped you with this year's topic of loneliness. I am here to listen, learn and grow. So, if you have any thoughts or resources on this topic, or want to get in touch to share your own story about how your furry loved one has helped you with feeling less lonely or isolated, feel free to get in touch.
For those who might want to dig into the wider topic of mental health and dog ownership, I found this paper an interesting read (not the lightest read mind you)!
Over the course of the week, we will be sharing different resources and content that we hope will help to shed light on the important topics discussed in this letter. My hope is that we continue to raise awareness and show commitment to the Mental Health Foundation's campaign with meaningful action.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to the conversations to come.
Alex Fell & the Barc London team