New WhatsApp Chatbot Offers Support And Advice When You’re Feeling Lonely
A brand new WhatsApp chatbot will offer support and advice to those suffering from loneliness, providing a much-needed branch of connection.
Sadly, loneliness is an all too common issue, with people experiencing feelings of loneliness for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you’ve recently suffered a serious bereavement or painful break-up. Or maybe you’ve moved to an unfamiliar new city for work or study, far away from family and friends.
Lockdown has unfortunately exacerbated such feelings, with so many of us cut off from the everyday, ordinary lines of communication we hadn’t before realised were so precious.
Although I’ve been very fortunate in many respects, there were times last year – after being suddenly plunged into home-working – when I felt the cold nip of loneliness creep in. Days when I found myself chattering away nervously to the cashier, glad for the quick warm blast of human interaction.
I enjoy my own company and am quite content to have an evening at home, cooking a meal for one and curling up in front of a good box set.
There is after all a huge difference between spending time alone and feeling lonely, but when loneliness does set in, it can feel tough to shake, and sometimes it can seem as though you’re the only one.
However, according to recent figures from the UK government, more people from all age groups are reporting experiencing feelings of loneliness, including 40% of 16 to 24-year-olds and 45% of those over the age of 60.
Meanwhile, as per the Campaign to End Loneliness, 45% of adults in England will occasionally, sometimes or often feeling lonely, adding up to 25 million people. There are of course more reasons for loneliness than can reasonably be counted, affecting people from all walks of life.
Social DV influencer, Lejla Dauti, told UNILAD:
Since divorcing my abusive ex-husband in 2019, my loneliness plummeted, so adding lockdown into the mix made me feel really isolated.
It was only until I started raising awareness on domestic abuse on Instagram, via Lejla, Please My Story. I was able to connect with other DV survivors and interact with other women who felt my pain.
Meanwhile, Alex, a ‘very bubbly and extroverted’ creative director, told UNILAD how his ‘resilience was definitely put to the test during lockdown and the overall pandemic.’
After leaving his job during the third lockdown due to burnout, Alex launched his own home fragrance atelier, a change of pace that has had both pros and cons:
What has been creatively rewarding has meant that I am now lacking in the social department because I no longer have the daily catch-ups with team members and other social activities that happen when you are part of a team.
Even under the most ideal of circumstances, it’s natural, and sometimes unavoidable, that we humans should experience loneliness from time to time. Even at times when we’re surrounded by other people.
However, prolonged feelings of loneliness can have a devastating impact on a person’s mental health, and is associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
Positive psychology coach Rebecca Lockwood told UNILAD that it’s important for those experiencing loneliness to ‘speak out and don’t let it fester’:
If you are feeling lonely or sad then speak about it if you feel it would help. Often people find that when they speak up and share their feelings that others also admit feeling the same and no longer feel alone.
Considering those who may be feeling lonelier working from home at this tricky time, Lockwood advised considering taking your work to a café or collaborative working space in you can, explaining:
If you like just being around other people sometimes simple things like going to the local cafe to work from every now and then or finding a local co working space can do wonders for your creativity and collaboration.
Sometimes it may not even be that you want to speak to others, but you still want to be around others and working from spaces where others are will really help with this.
In a bid to address the all too common issue of loneliness, WhatsApp is now partnering with the Connection Coalition of charities and the Jo Cox Foundation to launch a brand new Loneliness Advice messaging service, allowing users to access help with just a simple text.
Through this innovative messaging chatbot, launched June 17, those suffering from loneliness can access a private and secure service, allowing them to receive advice, information and support from trusted organisations.
Built with simplicity in mind, users just need to add 07902 922 908 to their WhatsApp contacts, before sending a message saying ‘hi’.
A menu will then be brought up containing a range of information and resources from relevant organisations, including the Marmalade Trust, Age UK, The Mix, the Campaign to End Loneliness, The British Red Cross and the #LetsTalkLoneliness campaign.
From here, users can select the relevant support or advice they may need for themselves or someone they’re concerned about, including resources for over 65s, information on under 25s support groups and access to the Campaign to End Loneliness’ new podcast series.
Users who wish to speak with someone quickly will also find a direct link to the British Red Cross helpline.
UK Government Minister for Loneliness, Baroness Barran, said:
Although life is beginning to feel closer to normal for many people, we are still in a critical stage when it comes to tackling loneliness. There is a large number of people who felt lonely before the pandemic and will continue to do so as lockdown restrictions ease.
I spoke with Su Moore, CEO at the Jo Cox Foundation, about the stigma which is so often attached to loneliness, despite this being such a common issue, and the need to open up some much-needed conversations.
The late Jo Cox had been passionate about tackling loneliness, having been lonely herself during her ‘fish out of water’ years at university, and had wanted to help change the government response to this issue.
While campaigning to become an MP, Cox came across many people who wanted a chat, not necessarily because she was a politician, but because they were suffering from loneliness.
After successfully becoming an MP for Batley and Spen, Cox established a cross-party commission to have a consultation and a response to loneliness. Following her tragic murder in 2016, this was taken up as part of her enduring legacy, named the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission.
The recommendations which came out of this commission have directly influenced government strategy on the topic of loneliness, with Cox’s passion for the cause continuing to influence to this day.
Five years after Cox’s death, the organisation dedicated to furthering her good work continues to prioritise addressing loneliness, raising awareness and encouraging people to make connections.
Moore told UNILAD:
I do think there’s lots of people who, when they think of someone who’s lonely, in their minds they automatically go to an older person, sat in a chair on Christmas Day by themselves.
But actually, what we found is that loneliness impacts on everyone, and I think that yes, there is still that real stigma, I think particularly around young people as well.
I also think that lots of people don’t know what loneliness is. I mean, we hear anecdotal stories from people who know that they don’t feel quite right in themselves, and don’t know if they’re really depressed or if they’re having another issue.
And actually, when they understood a bit more about loneliness, they realise that that’s what the problem is, and they can go and make those really positive steps.
According to Moore, many people really don’t know the ‘full extent’ of loneliness, which can of course come in many forms:
I had a really long conversation with my partner the other day about loneliness and feelings of loneliness, because I think even in close friendship groups and in relationships, people don’t necessarily reflect on it because there’s still, I think, for lots of people that stigma.
It makes people feel that if you’re lonely, you don’t have any friends. If you’re lonely, you’re doing something wrong. But you can be lonely in a room full of people. You can have a huge, wide friendship circle and still feel lonely.
So it’s really about making people understand that, you’ve not done something wrong and that it’s fine to be feeling that way and that there are lots of ways that you can reach out and ask for help.
Personally speaking, there’s been various times in my life when I’ve felt completely unsure of where to turn or who to talk to, and I believe I would have felt a little less lonely knowing there was a dedicated, and easy to use, ‘helping hand’ service such as this to turn to.
If you’re currently feeling lonely, you should know there is support out there and people who want to hear from you. You aren’t alone.
You can check out the chatbot for yourself here
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.