We reflect on the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2022…

How do you foster togetherness in a staff team who don’t all work in the same office? Enter a global pandemic, and what was up until that point a rumbling challenge for ECS suddenly became a daily battle. A battle for efficiency and good communication, but also a battle against isolation (the state of being alone) and loneliness (the sensation of being alone).

A loneliness epidemic

Cut off overnight and then kept away from the people, places and things we loved, the pandemic was always going to result in an epidemic of loneliness. Research by the Mental Health Foundation found that loneliness during the lockdowns was almost 3 times as high as pre-pandemic levels. The disruption, and in some cases complete breakdown, of close relationships was commonly cited as a reason behind this.

Fostering togetherness

Fostering togetherness – working towards that sense of collective purpose and unity – had already been an important part of our internal strategy at ECS even before the pandemic. But the reality of lockdown confronted us afresh with the vital nature of connectedness (and the challenges of achieving and maintaining it). From lunchtime virtual yoga to surprise gifts through the post, we worked hard to find fresh and creative ways of using the means we had to foster that sense of togetherness.

And our whole society did just that too. There were, and still are, so many wonderful stories of people fighting to maintain meaningful connection despite the obstacles of the pandemic, and of the real good those efforts did. Everyone knew instinctively that connection was more important than ever before.

A deeper problem?

Did the pandemic cause loneliness, or simply bring to light a deeper, existing problem with loneliness our society is facing? The answer is probably both – while measured rates of loneliness are certainly higher than pre-pandemic, loneliness was already increasingly seen as a topic needing research and action.

As Christians, we believe in a deeper problem of loneliness. A loneliness that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, that moment of madness when humankind gave up its privileged companionship with God.

Humans were made for relationships. But ever since that moment, we have been suffering from the gaping hole left by that greatest of broken relationships. And we feel it. Even with social gatherings increasingly possible, even with instant virtual connection at our fingertips, even with more people on the planet than ever before…creation groans in loneliness at our separation from God.

You’ll never walk alone

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  With these words Jesus closes the Great Commission. They were words that His disciples needed to hear before Jesus departed from them physically. And through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it is a promise that all Christians can hold on to, even in the loneliest of times – Immanuel, God with us. And upon Jesus’ return, we shall enjoy a full welcome back into that glorious companionship with God we were created for.

Now, as we reflect on this year’s topic for Mental Health Awareness Week, it is important not to add guilt on to feelings of loneliness. In a world which suffers from a broken relationship with God, and imperfect relationships with one another, loneliness is a sad fact of life that affects us all – Christians and non-Christians alike – at some point.

Yet while feelings of loneliness remain, the reality of our repaired relationship with God means that Christians have a wonderful hope to hold on to, and indeed offer out to those who don’t yet enjoy that repaired connection with God. We can bring that spirit of connectedness and relationship with those experiencing loneliness, practically demonstrating something of the love that drove our God to sacrifice Himself, so that we would never have to be alone again.