Loneliness and isolation: Filling an important gap


Why do mental health services exist? What impact do they truly have? Jonathan Baker, digital officer for the Rethink Mental Illness Wiltshire Mental Health Inclusion Service, investigates.

Feeling alone because of your mental illness is tough. I’m proud to work for the Wiltshire Mental Health Inclusion Service and support people to reconnect with others.

The team do so much, but their busy days means they don’t have time to reflect on why their job exists. And, to be honest, they’re not always the type to celebrate the impact they have on others.

So, over a couple of cups of tea, I sat down with some colleagues to find out what it’s like working in the thick of things.

Why do you think the Wiltshire Mental Health Inclusion Service exists?

People are usually referred to us because they are lonely. Or they feel excluded from their local community, and suffer from low self-esteem, depression, and sometimes social anxiety.

There’s a massive gap between GPs, hospitals and community mental health teams. Once people are discharged there’s no support there for them.

NHS waiting lists are so long. People don’t always feel listened to by doctors and mental health professionals which can make them feel left out and isolated.

With social media, we’re no longer with those in our immediate area – those we grow up with, go to school with, etc. Being connected to the wider world online has made us less connected to people locally.

But I think COVID showed us what our neighbours can do for us and brought local communities together again, and how that can be helpful for our mental health and why such a service exists.

  • The support has helped me feel more confident to go out and do things and has helped me feel able to apply for jobs and go to groups with less anxiety than before.

    User of the Wiltshire Mental Health Inclusion Service User of the Wiltshire Mental Health Inclusion Service

What does the service do well?

We’re good at responding to the needs of people. And we’re a voice for those struggling with their mental health. We facilitate what an individual and the community needs, if not through ourselves, but through other organisations.

The service goes above and beyond in supporting individuals to overcome barriers such as transport. Wiltshire is a rural and large county so being able to access things with poor transport links can be tough. So staff and volunteers will go and help people use public transport to attend activities and bring them together.

You won’t find many organisations that will help a person 1-1 with isolation – to achieve their own goals, build their confidence by doing things they want help with but can’t manage it straight away without support.

What impact does the service have on people?

A huge impact. People leave the service being able to go out independently, not free from anxiety but being able to manage their symptoms in a much better way.

I believe the service has a long-lasting positive effect on people’s wellbeing because they are offered the opportunity to do something different. And they get to do it alongside others who may themselves feel excluded from mainstream society.

  • (My Inclusion Coach) has given me confidence that I didn't know I had. They have also given me the belief to think positive and not to think so negatively. I'm in a much better place than I was when I first started this service.

    User of the Wiltshire Mental Health Inclusion Service User of the Wiltshire Mental Health Inclusion Service

I’ve seen people go from not being able to leave their homes to then going along to groups or out for a coffee. Confidence levels in people improves immensely. Most people just want a better way of living and I believe we give that to them by putting things in place and helping them on their journey.

One guy who came to us told me he wanted to try kayaking. He’d bought a couple of kayaks but hadn’t used them, because of low motivation and no-one to kayak with. He was nervous, but went to a trial session.

The weather was warm, the river calm. It was autumn, and dusk fell quickly. As they paddled, the stars came out and they went upriver under the town bridge. He says it was one of the best things he has ever done. Whenever he drives over the bridge he remembers the event with fondness.

If the service was given a million pounds tomorrow, how would you use it?

I would employ more inclusion coaches so there is never a waiting list so people with mental health issues do not need to wait.

Nature is essential for mental health. I would spend the money focusing on integrating Public Health with Planning in every local authority, to ensure that there is a public outdoor space within just five minutes’ walk of every single home.

I’d just love to expand the service – you really wouldn’t believe how many people feel they have no-one there for them.

Find out more about the Wiltshire Mental Health Inclusion Service.

To make a self-referral to the service, call 07467 764171 or email WiltsMHIS@rethink.org.