There are many reasons to love comedian Sarah Millican. Her honest stand-up style has made her a household name and the way she opens up about day-to-day situations is refreshingly relatable. However, this time of year we recognise her brilliance for a different reason; for the way she has created a community to combat loneliness over the holiday period with a simple hashtag: #JoinIn. For eight Christmases now, Sarah Millican begins a massive online Twitter conversation for those who are “alone or feeling lonely” and then the Twitter-verse takes over. Throughout Christmas Day people across the social media platform talk about food, films and more; sharing their pain and struggles with the world and getting support from total strangers.
Millican pointed out on The Russell Howard Hour a year ago that there are many people who are alone at Christmas but enjoy it that way and commented about her respect for those people, saying “I think those people are winning Christmas because they’re just wandering around in their pants with cheese in the hand all day”. And let’s face it, that’s really the dream Christmas for many of us. But for those of us who aren’t living the dream of a people-free cheese-filled pants-wearing Christmas, it’s good to know that there is an online community to help you through the day. There are people who you can share your grief with if you’re missing a loved one. You can wait for a partner to come home from work with a group of people who are doing the same. There’s a chance to share Christmas cheer with people thousands of miles away if you’re unable to be with your family or friends due to travel costs or illness. You may be on your own, but you don’t have to be alone, thanks to #JoinIn.
Mental health comes in all shapes and sizes, and if you’re someone who struggles with loneliness or similar mental health issues, Christmas can be a difficult time. With social media making it out to seem like everyone but you is having an idyllic festive season, it’s understandable to feel lonely if your Christmas Eve/Day doesn’t match some Instagram photo. So #JoinIn is there to ease those negative feelings however it can. Loneliness can lead to severe affects on your physical health, with research associating it to higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol and decreases in cognitive abilities. In recent years we’ve started to understand better the effect loneliness can have on the body and mind, and we’re now actively working as a society to combat it. The UK Prime Minister has appointed a Minister for Loneliness and the Jo Cox Commission for Loneliness put together a call to action in 2017 to encourage more conversations about loneliness. Whether you agree with social prescribing or not, it’s becoming more of a phenomenon in the UK; so it’s clear that as a country, we want to get better at this. We want to find a way to help those who are lonely. And why not use Twitter as a force for good in the war against loneliness?
This isn’t the first time a celebrity has been seen to be using their platform to promote better mental health across the UK on Twitter. Hamilton creator and Moana music-man Lin-Manuel Miranda sends out daily tweets to his followers, motivating them to conquer the day and approach challenges with positivity. Star of the hit show Catastrophe Rob Delaney has opened up about his grief when his young son died earlier this year. People of high profile are actively working to reduce the stigma that mental health has, and the beauty of Twitter is that it can bring together so many people at once. Millions of people have Twitter accounts, so there’s the potential for millions to see posts containing #JoinIn and reach out to their fellow humans. Social isolation and loneliness are some of the hardest things we can go through and a large part of that is because of the ways we hide it or become accustomed to it as a natural part of life. But the trust of the matter is, loneliness is a sign of poor mental health and so in the same way we work to treat anxiety or depression, we should show the same amount of effort to helping the lonely. Sarah Millican has shown us that humanity is good, and we all have the capacity to be there for each other. Let’s take that value further than just a single conversation one day a year. Let’s build her community into something that can be there for everyone, every day. Let’s #JoinIn.