This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme for the year is loneliness, providing us all with an opportunity to reflect on how these themes impact our own lives, and the lives of those around us.

Everyone knows what loneliness feels like, it’s a completely normal part of life that we all experience from time to time.

However, if experienced over a long period of time, loneliness and poor mental health can often go hand in hand.

Even before the pandemic, where levels of loneliness are reported to have rocketed, Age UK research showed that there were almost 5,000 older people in Barnsley living in isolation.

We also have particularly high levels of mental ill-health.

14% of adults in Barnsley East have a diagnosis of depression, compared to just 12% regionally in Yorkshire and The Humber, and 11.5% across England.

In some areas of the constituency, such as Hoyland, rates are even higher, reaching 18.2%.

By comparison, London constituencies like Westminster North have levels of just 6.5%.

However, despite how common poor mental health and loneliness clearly are, there is still a significant stigma surrounding them.

This is particularly so for those who don’t fit into the stereotype of someone who is lonely, for example, students, carers, or those who seemingly have a lot of social contacts, but still feel isolated.

This stigma can deter people from seeking the support they need.

But even for those who do look to the NHS for support, after a decade of Tory rule, they are likely to be faced by unacceptably long waiting lists.

I recently met with the Minister for Mental Health, alongside local NHS leaders, the mental health charity Hey! and Dan Jarvis MP, to discuss how we can improve support in the area and offer help to those who need it at an earlier stage, rather than allowing problems to escalate.

The mental health charity Hey! work so hard for young people across Barnsley and yet they are reliant on charity donations to fund their vital work. This is sadly mirrored by so many other local charities who are trying to plug the gap in mental health support caused by a lack of Government funding.

I will continue to urge the Government to ensure local NHS services are properly funded and staffed.

It shouldn’t matter if you live in Westminster or Worsborough, everyone deserves to feel they are part of a community that will look after them if they are struggling.

If you are feeling lonely, or are worried about your mental health, please do reach out for support – or let me know of your experience so that I can continue to raise this in Parliament.

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