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Isolation and loneliness are hazardous to your health. Studies show that depression caused by feelings of alienation and isolation can be as harmful to your health as obesity, or chugging half a pack of cigarettes a day!

Health4Men is currently running a campaign encouraging men who have sex with men to go and get tested for HIV with a close friend, for support. It’s based on the premise that we are braver when we do things together. But this is not just a great strategy for how to deal with the anxiety you may have about your HIV status; it’s also a good strategy when it comes to your mental health too. Here are a few points to ponder that will help you to reach out and connect with someone if you need to, for your good mental health:NoBullies

• Everybody hurts some times. Feeling lonely is very common, and almost everyone will experience it from time to time. Things happen in our childhood that makes us feel abandoned for some or other reason, and then, when we get older, something random can trigger a memory of this feeling of abandonment, and so we become overwhelmed with a feeling of isolation or aloneness. It’s important to remember at these times that loneliness is often just a feeling and not a fact. You may feel lonely, but in truth, there are probably many people who would love the opportunity to connect with you, given the opportunity.

• Connecting with other people is the best way to deal with stress, anxiety and depression. The reason that group therapy has such a great success rate is that we all respond much better to treatment or challenges when we feel that we are “all in this together”. Being part of a collective reminds us that we are in fact not alone, which is something that depression and reclusive behaviour can allow us to start to believe is true. Joining a yoga group or a hiking society can make a world of difference to your outlook on life.

• Get over yourself. Obsessing over your life and how you feel about it can actually aggravate feelings of alienation and despair. Try to focus on others for a while and see things from their perspective. You may become inspired by how bravely other people are battling their fears and personal demons. Compassion is a strange thing, when we have compassion for others, it causes others to start treating us in a similar way, and nothing can connect two souls better than cars of compassion running on a two-way street. Kindness is the same. Relationships and marriages that work for many years have been founded on good habits of treating one another with kindness.

• Be kind to yourself too! If you start to treat yourself the way that you are longing to be treated, then you encourage others to do the same. You are the ultimate trendsetter when it comes to teaching people how to treat you.

• Friends on FB is not the same as a friend in real-life. Studies have shown that “friendships” fostered on social media may be very rewarding, but that they pale in comparison to the benefits of real face-to-face interactions with a physical friendly friend. Getting the warm fuzzy rush of the oxytocin that gets released by the body during a real hug is far stronger than a pulsing heart emoji in your inbox. Also, don’t believe everything you see online. People can hide a lot from each other in social media. It can seem like everyone is happy and living their best life on their timelines, but in truth, they may be even sadder and more cut off than you are.

• It does get better. Sometimes isolation and depression can lead us to start believing that we are terrible people who deserve nothing but the worst sucky reality that life can dish us up with a rusty spoon. But this is a story. You can choose to believe this story, or not. If you want to you can go out there and find evidence that you are a sad loser, or you can keep your chin up, and Google-search a gazillion reasons why you rock the party in every way. It’s your choice, so choose wisely. Reach out. Often those who love you are happy to help you find further evidence of your awesomeness. Some people you love may drain you, but try and aim for the ones that build you up, they’re a better return on investment.

• We are all in this together. You can call a buddy and ask him to go with you to get tested for HIV or even to find out more about STIs and what PrEP may or may not be able to do for you. But you can also call him/her/them to hang out, to see and hear you and connect with you, so you can both remember just how much you rock, despite how scary and lonely the big bad world may seem. Because we are braver together.

Bruce J. Little is the Content Creator for Anova Health Institute, Health4Men and We The Brave.

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